March 10, 1998

Snow dusts an upturned circle of earth
like powdered sugar on brownies
as sun blues Montana’s unrestrained sky.
A train masters rails through fields of calving cows
while fat bellied sheep stretch toward next month’s labor.
Its faint wistful whistle colors my coffee richer,
ushering in morning’s promise of a day to work dirt.
Gardens root me to earth and create space to thin thinking.

While mentally mapping out zinnia streets lined with thyme,
a rap on the door pulls me present.
Farmer Tom steps inside.
Working the bill of his hat with his hands,
words spill beneath sober blue eyes
words about school buses and trains
words that shouldn’t be paired
words that Farmer Tom shared:

“Two brothers died.”

Morning’s lovely face
swallowed them up
and their young bodies flopped like fish in a basket
when metal hit metal.

“Two brothers
were killed
at the crossing
on Buffalo Canyon Road.”

My shaken neighbor, forever changed,
apologizes to me for tuning in calls on his emergency scanner,
he apologizes to me for sharing the news,
and he apologizes to me
for being the only person he can find any place
on this still spring morning.

“Oh God,”
Farmer Tom puts his head in his hands
and he weeps.

Brenda Warren 2013

Process Notes:  This is a true story, except that I did not hear the train’s whistle that morning.  Poetic license placed it there. Tom and I also joked about how strong my coffee was, trying to make life seem normal. The oddness of that morning keeps it fresh enough to revisit in this piece. Ben and Christopher Petersen would be adults with rich lives now.

This is for the 100th Sunday Whirl.  Thanks for your continued support there and here.  You all rock!


45 thoughts on “March 10, 1998

  1. Indeed – some events do change us and this would be one of them – so well told with some beautiful phrases that will also make it into my memorable quotes book Brenda (this tale brought tears to my eyes and a shudder to my being – I drove a school bus for a couple of years and unmarked crossings were the bane of my existence…)On the bright side – 100 prompts to propel us to great work … I agree with so many who’ve said that your words were the impetus for some of their finest poems (me too!) – and I’m also looking forward to 100 more! I think I shared my link elsewhere but just in case, here it is again…


  2. A remarkable piece. The way you surround the terribleness with your ordinary day is is heartwarming and comforting.The softness of the ordinary holds the sadness. Just a beautiful piece.xo teri


  3. Brenda, a sadly large number of young people (some on four-wheelers) are hit by trains. Your neighbor’s guilt about passing on the news – so many of us can relate to that. Who wants to be the harbinger of death, right?

    You created the Wordle, and yet it wasn’t until the train mastering the tracks that I realized this was YOUR Wordle poem. Now that’s good writing. Also, poetic license is so welcome when it includes the train whistle, a haunting reminder that it “got another one.” Sad, along with nervous jokes about coffee. SO REAL. Thanks for the Wordle and for this poem, and here’s mine. Peace, Amy


    • Thanks, Amy. Yup…spreader of bad news is not a comfortable fit for many of us. It’s always nice to see your brow here at undercaws. So glad you write with us at the Whirl!


  4. I enjoy story poems and you’ve pulled me into this story of sorry. Their young bodies flopped like fish in a basket…oh, my goodness…so vividly real and haunting. We never know when grief will visit. You’ve written a poem not easily forgotten, I’m sure.

    Congratulations on the success of Sunday Whirl. It is well deserved.


  5. Poignant piece of writing, Brenda. How very sad for the boys and their family. The train works well in this, trains are so lonely and sad. I always stop whatever I am doing when I hear one going through the city here. Well done, my friend and congrats on the 100th!



  6. When the death knell rings…no one sings. Then those left attempt to meet the next sunrise.

    I was running an errand the other day and sort of got lost. I could have gotten to where I was going but a road, the road was closed. I finally made it to my destination and asked about the closed road. Twenty years ago a bus and a train collided. The road was closed and has never opened again.

    Thanks always for your visits. To the next 100 and beyond!


    • Thank you Veronica. It’s interesting, I felt with you in your piece this week, too. My life back then was set in rural central Montana. Your setting is similar, and evoked feelings of that place for me, as did my piece. I live in one of Montana’s cities now, and miss rural life.


  7. Thank you for wordlists that tie me in knots, make me cringe, but also sing when one word jumps out, looks over its shoulder and yells, “Come on, follow me!” I must echo all those who came before me, Brenda. This is a powerful piece of writing and you prove once again, that all this busyness of pen on paper is truly healing and cathartic. I have not been present for all 100, and that is certainly my loss. You are the true master here, and thank you for that.



    • Elizabeth

      Once again, your words leave me feeling better inside than before I started reading them. You have a way about you, lady. You heal others with your compassion. Thank you for encouraging me, for opening my eyes to hidden meaning in some of my own work, and for simply being one of my fine poet friends.


  8. This gave me goosebumps. I love the lines “Gardens root me to the earth and create space to thin thinking.” I’m going to include it in my memorable quotes. The poem balances the beauty and the chill, the wonder and the loss. What a powerful write. Thank you for sharing this and for 100 prompts. I don’t always post but I do always read them. Again, the poem is wonderful.


    • Thank you, Carol! It humbles and surprises me that you are including that line in your memorable quotes. More than 10 years later, writing this piece still felt cathartic. Weird, eh?


  9. Apart from it being heart-breaking, this story is just so detailed, live, full and pulsating. I am stunned by the images and the soft metaphores. My fav: “Morning’s lovely face / swallowed them up.” Heart-breaking in its imperative march. On and on. The world is still the same, and yet the small world there changed.


    • OOoooo! I love “pulsating.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts Mariya, you express yourself with eloquence. I also love imperative march. ha! I’m loving your comment like a piece on its own. 🙂


  10. morning’s lovely face swallowed them up..what a stunning line..i hope it also kept them together and safe in the place they departed these moments seem crystal clear..the date such a powerful title..


  11. Your ability to move us with a story poem is second to none. And then to use the wordle words as well – I salute you.

    Thank you for all the work you put into the Sunday Whirl – some of my better poetry emerges as a result of your prompts. This week’s is not one of those!


  12. Every now and then we are smacked in the face with death telling us that it too is part of life, reminding us to love now not later, because his train does not run on schedule.


  13. Well Cheryl … You Nan, Cara and Laura have said all I could say! As I wrote on my blog I thank Brenda and the entire community for 100 Sundays of shared worlds that these words opened.


  14. Hi Brenda, I was coming here to gloat about my wordle being the best I’ve ever written when I stumbled over yours and swallowed my pride. You are hands down the best wordler ever. Your story bleeds from the heart. My heart now sits beside me on the bench as I process this. A hard recover. Bless you for taking us all this far, to our 100th.


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