Photo credit to Annie Jenkin, Plymouth, England

The Duchess of Sutherland
by Annie Jenkin

Wallowing in rising steam, hissing
at passing people who press closer
to stroke her glistening coat,
the Duchess impatiently waits—

For the sweaty, soot-stained stoker
shovelling coal, adding water
rising pressure and grey plumes
steadily spew out the smoke-stack—

For the sounds of “all aboard”
and scurrying footfall to fade,
doors slam, a split second of silence
then a whistle shrills three times—

Engine shoulders strain and heave
carriages lurch and shudder
as pistons force huge steel wheels
to grip, grind and slowly turn.

Freed from station constraints
steam and puff gaining speed
leaving the branch line behind,
chuffing along miles of track.

The triumphant piercing squeal
as the whistle echoes off
Victorian tunnel walls,
aged and blackened with soot.

A 10-mile climb up Stoneycombe
snorting like a tired horse
then metal hooves thunder down
pounding the ground, free-wheeling,

till brakes rumble under our seat
and we are lulled once again
by clickety-clack rhythms
regularly passing over points.

Honeyed wheat-ears excitedly
wave and bow in the fields
cattle and sheep run away.
People stand on banks to watch

as the magnificent train
reminds us of bygone days.
The station nears, our journey
ends, but not the memory.

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