Letting in the Light
For Donald Newlands
The #4 Car to Ottawa is neither
an airstream trailer of the rails
nor a Pullman carriage affording the 19th Century luxury,
a lounge and meals on your lap. In today’s world
there is no place for the large suitcase under your seat,
yet the first lurch and rhythmic sway out of the
train shed feels just right.
There’s a first time for rocking and for leaping down
the dropped steps on ten year old legs into the welcome
Once it took twelve hours from Union Station to
the night wrapped in wet pines as adult hands reaching out
of glistening slickers gathered ours;
held at bay the folded forest, the lake’s black lap
And so we were transported.
As a matter of fact, no one said then,
you’d feel thunder in your feet if you stood
between the coupled cars, rolling over the ties,
A cinder in your eye if you hung over the side
smoke burning the corners of your throat.
As the train eats track from Cobourg to Kingston,
bare trees whistle up the lake’s bald pate,
the flash-by-do-nothing-houses idle like flatcars
on a siding in serial disorder after the winter’s blue yawn.
Diesel, this diesel, with its tin whistle and thin-as-a
-rail look, has relinquished forever the
big time railroading of yesteryear.
Even so, it comes as a thump in the gut:
slam of air and iron shudder jolting my spine.
The westbound’s solitary beam hurts my eyes
as the oncoming freight topples
telephone poles like a deck of cards in the turmoiled air;
air, forcing the sky to make room
before the curtain of iron kills the view.
Up close the boxcars whiz
by the window. I want to touch them, reach beyond
the frame, taste the deafening death zone of speed
and pulse, ride until I tire on the saddle
of the coal-black tanker
fleeing like an African god in the sparking light.
There are days when I long for the world
to throw spikes in my eyes.
This way of letting the light in.
I lean back now embracing
of the great escape.
Take a train any day, anywhere will do.
From Paper Wings
You died, and then I dreamed we were young again.
You fed me sweet cake, spreading it over my lips
so I could taste it. I wake to the scent of gardenia,
creamy petals, deckled brown
crushing against your blue serge suit.
I’ll See You In My Dreams, always the final cut
the disc jockey played to wind up another holiday ball.
When I learned you were sick I wrote, reminded you
of the ‘snowball dance’ we won at Judy Blackey’s party;
how you doubled me back over your arm, kissed me
under the mistletoe.
I wore pale yellow net, boned bodice with a frill
to hide my budless chest, and after supper
you ‘dosey-doed’ my strapless dress from front to rear
and when I thought you weren’t looking
I swung it back.
Earlier still, your sweet trebles at our piano −
my brother, you,
rehearsing Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado:
the light rain of your voice falling fifty years
like a continuing sentence.
How you noted my name.
Out of Synch
Waking, against our will
to cycles out of synch,
winter losing its bite, or
biting in the wrong places.
The North Pole swimming
in blue soup.
clouds of Monarchs would lift and land,
sipping nectar from sunflowers and lavender spears.
Not this year.
On moonless nights I fear
we are cratering this overheated world.
Like gods we stride the Earth with clamped hearts,
for immortality before our prime.