I had planned on continuing my discussion of Anne Finch this week, but decided to put her on hold when I stumbled across an astonishing poem at VALPARAISO POETRY REVIEW: "Dark Transit" by Jared Carter.
Always the passing of trains in the night,
The sound becoming a part of sleep, unnoticed,
Until one night you hear the call, and know
That a certain train had come for you at last.
The cars illumined with strange empty light,
The dining room with its starched tablecloths,
Its gleaming chairs, the lanterns swinging
In time with the headlong surge of the wheels.
Diesel engine, steam engine, wood-burner,
It does not matter, it is slowing down now,
And it has come for you, already you can see
How it glides to a stop in the empty station.
The stationmaster waves his yellow lantern
And confers with the conductor. It is time.
The train has arrived. You must go forward.
Passengers peer from the clouded windows.
The conductor folds down the steps, he beckons,
It is time, it is time, the whistle calls, the engine
Lets off steam, steam roiling and billowing
Far down the edge of the long dark platform.
I've been reading this over and over this past week, trying to figure out what it is that draws me into the world of this poem so forcefully, so completely. I think it's two things actually. First, trains. I grew up in Maysville, KY, a small town in the Ohio River Valley. I lived about two blocks from a fairly busy line used mostly for shipping coal (Although Amtrak goes through as well) to the power plants up and down the river. Because my house was so close to the tracks, I could hear the engines, of course; but I remember being able to feel them as well, a deep tremble that would shake the house late into the night. I remember walking the tracks home from school, trying to balance on one rail. My brother and I would put coins or rocks on the rails to be flattened or smashed into powder by lines of cars.
It's hard to imagine ever feeling so comfortable and welcome in such a barren, indifferent environment. We knew it was dangerous but still felt completely confident and fearless. Part of this same feeling is in "Dark Transit" as well. The poem welcomes the reader with the use of the second tense (which is not easy to pull off) and also with these very invitational, "You Come Too" lines: "it has come for you" / "it is time" / "you must go forward."
Ultimately, it is these invitational lines which make the poem so powerful; they provide opportunities not only for transit, but for transcendence. "Dark Transit" is meant to wake us from our everyday sleepwalking lives, shake things up a little, and set us down a new and different track.
Enjoy the poem,