Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, SONG OF THE AIRWAY, by DAWSON POWELL

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SONG OF THE AIRWAY, by            
First Line: Where prodding saints once walked to dreamless sleep
Last Line: I shall be gone where mate-less eagles cry.
Subject(s): Mormons

Prophets and Pioneers

Where plodding saints once walked to dreamless sleep
And creaking leather softened in the foam
From steaming flanks that matched the pony's breath
Against man's hunger for plain words from home --
Man now forgets the trail's old shibboleth --
New thunder drones the plaint of his unrest.
Where foot-sore lagged, the sickly welcomed death,
The weak let drop the challenge of the West;
The Mormon wheel-tracks fill with powdered dust
And plunder's ranging starvelings lie at rest.
Now their dissolving spirits guide the thrust
Of driven wings that leap the creaking seams
Of desert wastes, and soar above the crust
Of inland basins, robbed of ancient streams.
The desert like a sullen buzzard waits
For man to stumble from his wind-flung dreams.


West from Cheyenne

Breasting the wind we rise till earth's a dome,
The town's great trees are stubble cropped by sheep,
And criss-crossed streets -- a jewelled web that baits
The birdman with the thought of promised sleep.
Great buttes and sand-cliffs slump where rival hates
Of red and white men smouldered into feuds --
Where now, with flapping wings, the magpie prates
And coyotes, howling, voice the wasteland moods.
The ghosts of Sioux and Pawnee watch us here;
In every dust-swept gulch their spirit broods.
Against the flight of man's winged pioneers
The stubborn breath of their Great Spirit bears.
Our motor's barking that we dully hear
Drives forward with a rush and brusquely tears
The rooted silence from the snow-draped hills.
Far south the rearing head of Long's Peak wears
A cloud-white turban and the Big Horn fills
The plain to north with grandeur scorning change.
Our ship wings on. The giddy height distills
New splendor from the bowls of Snowy Range.
A score of rock-framed mirrors hold the fringe
Of trooping evergreens whose ranks arranged
Against the vaulting slope in lines, and cringe
In tattered groups beneath the threat'ning snow.
Thin plumes of spray are seen where streams impinge
Against the jagged walls which guide their flow
Through canyons muffled in a purple haze.
Ahead the green-splotched course of Medicine Bow
Drops from an upland gorge where cattle graze,
And soon beneath our perch the great North Platte
Ravels its silver band to pass a maze
Of scattered islands in a sandy flat.
The minutes split to thousandths while the screw
With pulse, electric, drives as from a bat
Sharp puffs of air which sting as though they blew
From off a glacier, carrying an age
Of silence with their drifting, misty dew.
We skim high, terraced battlements that wage
A nerve-less combat with the driven sand;
Then cross a "dude" town, set where even sage
Can find no foothold on the ice-burnt land, --
An oil town with its tanks set out in line
Like buttons on a card held in the hand.
High over Rawlins soon we catch the shine
Of sunlight on the drab Red Desert waste
Where sink-holes, ringed about by starving kine,
Mix with the rain a lifeless blood-red paste.
For weary miles the dun earth sprawls ahead
In lazy dunes that mock our nervous haste,
Until at last we soar above the spread
Of Table Mountain, like a polished ledge
Tufted in hollows as a mattress bed
And spilling trap winds from its scalloped edge.
We drift to west and follow Bitter Creek
Winding through tinted columns where a wedge
Of glacial ice has gouged the bone-gray cheek
Of mountain stone, to join a river dimly green
Where island castles tower and vainly seek
To hold their heads in light from dawn's first sheen
Until night's clouds in purpling splendor shake.
A twisting train winds north through a ravine
Searching for hiding like a wounded snake,
But we keep west across a seared landscape
Too new for death, too bleak for life to stake
A claim upon its surface where the scrape
Of slipping glaciers is but newly stilled, --
Land that has raised no living soul to shape
An altar to the God who could have willed
Such barrenness to a life-loving world.
Leaving the bench-land with our pulses chilled
We pass Fort Bridger where the first smoke curled
From out-post fires of the emigrant.
Along our left the snow's a javelin hurled
From Giant's hand and caught on high aslant
The peaks of the Uintas. There it guides
The airmen tracking with the clouds to plant
Dominion's banner where the eagle rides.
We nose up to a ceiling formed of cloud;
Tossed among wisps of spray our winged ship glides
Over the Wasatch range whose ridges crowd
The upper air as though to lift the sky.
And in its crazy furrows, deeply plowed,
No shadows yield but to a sun flung high.
With muscles tensed we ride the bumpy air
Through Emigration Saddle, then let fly
As from a catapult we pierce the glare
Which rises gilded, from a crater's bowl,
Above Salt Lake, where smoke like combed up hair
Lifts from the islands. Like an unnerved soul
Dropped in a sacrificial pit, we fall
And glide to silence on a man-built mole.


The Call of the Trail

Tonight we revel and tomorrow, part.
You shall be home with men upon the earth,
Crushing life's fragrance to your hungry heart.
I shall go back to trails where I had birth,
Leaving no answer to your troubled -- Why?
Till time absorbs our lives like scattered mirth,
Climbing the ladder of the western sky,
Dimly discerned, in absence dimly missed,
I shall be gone where mate-less eagles cry.

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