Saturday, April 27, 2013

Journey by Train

When I was a little girl we moved across country several times.  The last time I was 12 years old; we were traveling from Wisconsin to California.  That would be 53 years ago.  Except for one train ride from San Jose to San Francisco to enjoy the Christmas sights with our then four year old son, that was the last time I road a train.  Of course, this is discounting the preserved historic trains that leave out of places like Jamestown, Felton, or Oakdale, CA that give you amusing and history filled patter from a local historian/conductor for 30 minutes.  You probably all have something like this near you.

In 1961 a young girl could leave the traveling berth she shared with her mother and younger sister and hang out in the dome car alone without fear of strangers.  I doubt if a smart parent would allow that today but it was a different time then, or, perhaps just more innocent or,probably, both.

I loved sitting in that car all day long, changing seats with the movement of the sun.  There were no superhighways then.  Route 66 was the main road across the USA.  Riding high in the dome, there were sights I could see that were not visible from a car on the road.  Small enclaves of life in the distance approached at a rapid rate.  Along with the cars on the roads, I knew something was coming.  They had the road signs and mile markers.  I had the view.  And what a view it was.

My dear friend, Gemma, sent me this poem today.  If I were going to write a memory of what I saw from those long ago dome cars, this would be what I would write.

Journey by Train

Stretched across counties, countries, the train
Rushes faster than memory through the rain.
The rise of each hill is a musical phrase.
Listen to the rhythm of space, how it lies,
How it rolls, how it reaches, what unwinding relays
Of wood and meadow where the red cows graze
Come back again and again to closed eyes—
That garden, that pink farm, that village steeple,
And here and there the solitary people
Who stand arrested when express trains pass,
That stillness of an orchard in deep grass.

Yet landscapes flow like this toward a place,
A point in time and memory's own face.
So when the clamor stops, we really climb
Down to the earth, closing the curve of time,
Meeting those we have left, to those we meet
Bringing our whole life that has moved so fast,
And now is gathered up and here at last,
To unroll like a ribbon at their feet.
"Journey by Train" by May Sarton, from Collected Poems. © Norton,


gma said...

My dad worked for the RR. I rode the train by myself from Flagstaff Az. to grammas house in Albuquerque NM when I was 10 y/o.
My dad asked the conductors to watch out for me.
I pretended to be a grown
Glad you enjoyed the poem.

Ginny said...

This is a wonderful poem!! I have ridden on a train one time, my grandmother was so excited and had wanted me to for years. I find trains to be so melancholy and iconic. The whistle of a passing train is especially mournful. When I was a girl my favorite uncle worked on a train, and whenever one passed the house, my mom would tell me to run outside and wave to it, maybe uncle Al was on it! Such excitement. Now we can hear the train whistle from our house, every night at 11:00 and 2:30 A.M. and I think of those balmy summer nights when I was a child and would run outside to wave to my uncle on the caboose. He died a very young man leaving three little children. My life continues to journey on with the trains, losing more people at each stop.

Annie said...

We live between two sets of tracks and in the middle of the night I sometimes awaken and hear one passing. The whistle is mournful, that's true, and the click clack of the wheels is more a whosh by the time the sound arrives at my bedroom window. I love to lay there and listen trying to figure out if it is a train east of me or west of me.

Jeanie said...

I love riding on trains, but have never gone more than four hours. The whole idea of the sleeping berth is so romantic, so North by Northwest. Sigh. Wonder if that will ever happen for me; there are precious few trains like that left!

Janet said...

My maternal grandpa was a train man. He worked for the Wabash Railroad but I never took a train trip! What wonderful memories you have of yours. And the poem is perfect. Gemma is a gem!

see you there! said...

What a marvelous poem. I like Mae Sarton's writing but this one is new to me. I too like train travel and have taken the train from CA to Oregon and back many times, most recently two years ago. I checked the currant prices and (with a sleeper) they were much too high for my pocket book this year.