Sunday, September 18, 2011

Poem: In a train


In a train

Never have I loved so well
the life given me
as when I was rocked
by the four o’clock train
from Chicago to Lansing in 1968,
the lap and arms of iron and steel
holding me, window-framed,
a vibrating twelve-year-old witness
to the dusky backside balconies
of yellow brick apartments
with Hancock’s black tower fading behind,
and I, eating the cool green grapes
my married sister packed, cold
fried chicken, a red and white
paper napkin tucked in a brown bag,
lumbering slowly past city windows
reflecting Magikist neon, where red-trim-
aproned women, the same
high-heeled secretaries I’d seen
on Michigan Avenue, were now fingering
the radio knob for jazz or polka while my train
lullabyed me home toward the small town
of my dull, window-gazing life,
but for a few minutes more, still here,
alone, humming along in the city.

Poetry should be heard.

Posted for the dVerse train poem challenge. This is my first time participating in this really terrific poetry community called dVerse Poets Pub hosted today by Claudia Schoenfeld of jaywalking the moon.

Paintings by Edward Hopper: "Approaching the City" and "Woman on a Train"



Brian Miller said...

nice..i love riding the train...and know the feel of the lullaby...some really nice choice of words to set the mood and texture of the piece...i like...glad you joined us ruth....

Elisabeth said...

This is so lovely Ruth. I can see it all through the eyes of a twelve year old, myself identifying with yourself. So clear, so powerful and seemingly so simple.

erin said...

such a moment of burgeoning and at such a young, and yet important, age.

what is it about that feeling, that being rocked and being witness, simultaneosly? it is the metaphor for life, isn't it, our movement through time, us, while a part of the play, always a member of the audience too.

i think of this song. (but i cheat. i am lately always thinking of this song.) walking far from home, by iron and wine. it is for me a quintessential song of witness. there is one line, saw a woman on a speed train, she was closing her eyes, closing her eyes, as though this were everything! this is how i feel reading your poem, how i feel when i hear this song. listen:


Ruth said...

Thanks, Brian. I think a lot of us like to be lulled [to sleep] on a train. Thanks for your great work at dVerse and in the whole big poetry community.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Elisabeth, a train is a great place for transition.

Ruth said...

erin, I bet it's not cheating if the song happens to connect so much of your life at the moment, that's just good vibes. I like it, and I'll listen again when my internet doesn't pause it in the middle ...

That feeling of being rocked and being witness at the same time is about safety and freedom, for me, being safe and free to fly. I like planes OK, but I feel safer in trains.

lkkolp said...

Love the exciting childhood adventure amid the "dull, window-gazing life"... glad you joined in!


Louise Gallagher said...

I want to ask, how do you do that? Take me there. Bring me into your place with such ease. Immerse me in your grace.

And I know, it is not 'how', it is you. It is how you are. How you do it, always.


Ruth said...

Thanks for reading, Laurie, it's nice to join the gang!

Ruth said...

Ahh, Louise, you're so sweet. You encourage me so much!

missing moments said...

What a beautiful memory
and your prose always amaze
Always enjoy stopping here Ruth.

Claudia said...

i love that you included the food in your train ride...i think no matter what kind of food, it tastes a hundred times better in trains than at home..

Maureen said...

We still have good train service between D.C. and Boston, and I take the train whenever I go to New York City. As my husband says, it's so civilized. I like riding especially at night.

Wonderful poem, Ruth. And who could not love its perfect pairing with the Hoppers?!

ds said...

I love the cool green grapes and cold chicken against the yellow heat of the city buildings, and the secretaries...Your poem is so Hopper-like, and so essentially you, the 12 year old alone (yet we sit with you), still excited yet pensive. Restive. Just wonderful.
I see Europe when I think of trains, but never again...

Pat said...

I love those paintings, especially the first one. I had to smile at the Magikist reference, because I know EXACTLY what you are talking about! What a lovely poem! I felt like I was sitting right next to you, rocking to the movement of the train, waiting for you to share some cool green grapes with me!

kenju said...

I love train travel and have only done it three times. I really wish that the US had as good a tgrain system as Europe.

I love your poem, and Edward Hopper is one of my favorite artists.

Marcie said...

Love how the memory of your train ride transported you from the city lights to the quiet country. So beautifully written. And - I love the Hopper painting!!!

hedgewitch said...

This captures that sense of passive appreciation of the macrocosm outside the window you never quite seem to get in a car, even as a passenger. Cars have a totally more active feel to me than trains. Re-living this with you was quite an outing, the red and white napkin, the memories of complexity and simplicity wedded, and the lovely paintings for appetizer and desert. (And very glad to see you visiting the pub, of course.) Thanks for the trip.

jen revved said...

You paint a superb picture with language, detail on detail, permitting meaning to emerge from each image and that you chose each, and where you placed it. A consummate mistress of your craft, you are! Glad you're taking part in this-- it's part of my writing practice as well. xxxxj

Beachanny said...

This is my first time to be invited to your place. So happy to come; your poem made me feel a connection as I have always loved and yearned for big, BIG cities. Over the course of a lifetime, I still find them magical. Hanging the Hopper's made me feel welcome too. I have one of his sailboats here at the beach house that glitters into three dimensionality in the afternoon sun.

I enjoyed you train ride. Of course, I've heard about you from the others. Knew about the Rilke from the others, but I haven't read him yet last it's so wonderful to meet you!

Oliag said...

What a wonderful, Hopperesque memory Ruth. The poem and the painting compliment each other so well. I do love the picture I have of twelve year old you enjoying your adventure.

As readers we expect poetry and much of fiction to be autobiographical....this is one that I hope truly is:) said...

Welcome to our little community, Claudia is a marvelously gracious host and I'm sure she made you feel right at home. Your lovely poem brought back memories of traveling alone as a child: the journey that widens the sense of self that is possible while it enlarges an understanding of the world. “When the soul wishes to experience something she throws an image of the experience out before her and enters into her own image.” Meister Eckhart Thank you!

Arti said...

First off, I loved that first painting when I saw it. Found it familiar but didn't know the source. Then reading, and listening to your poem, I scrolled down and saw the other one, and I knew right away... yes, Edward Hopper. What a master.

About your poem, Ruth, I can see a movie scene. Your voice is like a narrator's. Of course, that scene is just my imagination, cued by your vivid description. Another notion that came to me was the story behind the poem. I could feel the ambivalence of the speaker ... I've thoroughly enjoyed this post.

shoreacres said...

I wonder when it was that the grapes and chicken, hardboiled eggs and brownies finally disappeared from travel?

I was sent home from my grandparents' on a bus rather than a train, but the experience was very much the same: fried chicken and a window- gazing life. Sometimes there would be a brown bag, but at least once there was a shoebox, tied with twine. Had I been older, I might have been embarassed, felt "country". But at the time, all I knew was that my grandmother's chicken was waiting - and there would be enough to share if I wanted.

Thanks for evoking such warm memories!

Ginnie said...

Oh my, Ruth. I had no idea you had that experience when you were 12! I can just picture Susan making sure every little thing was taken care of for you...and surely Mom and Dad were waiting for you on the other end. You were just a year older than Nicholas, 7th grade.

Amy says Nicholas will have to be at least 13 before she'll allow him to fly to Amsterdam alone. Two more years. I can see it now. You've really whetted my appetite. :)

Ruth said...

Reena, thank you for stopping, and thank you for being amazed! :-)

Ruth said...

It's true, Claudia! Thanks for stopping by, and for a great pub challenge.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Maureen. I envy your regular train rides. We wish there were a commuter train from Detroit to Grand Rapids, but I doubt there will be money for it, maybe ever.

Ruth said...

Thank you, dear ds. I like so much that you saw the cool against the heat. Not only was I young, I was quite protected for years to come, even in my imagination. Don't you wish we had lots and lots of trains and rode them?

I think my Hopper and your Wyeth are a nice galleria sympatico.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Pat! I used to wait and wait for that Magikist sign when we drove to and from my sister's. I had it wrong in the poem at first: Sunkist! Um, that would be FL. :-)

Ruth said...

Thanks, Kenju for your kind comment. I wish we had a good train system too, and inexpensive. It often costs more to take a train than a plane from MI to NYC, for instance.

Ruth said...

Hedgewitch, thanks a lot, and for your excellent poets pub. I've been very impressed by the style and seriousness of the pub and all you who host it.

Yes, and how can you dislike travel where it's acceptable to eat a picnic with both hands while you ride?

Ruth said...

Jenné, thank you for such kind words. And it's nice to finally join in the pubby fun.

Ruth said...

Hi and welcome, Gay. You were always welcome to come by, and I'm so glad you have after I finally wandered into your pub. Yes, I have seen you around in good company and form, and so I look forward to learning more about you and your work. I do hope you will read Rilke, who is one of the great mentors for life, as well as poetry, truly mind- and heart-opening for me.

Ruth said...

Arti, thank you for reading and finding those pleasant things in the piece. It is a happy remembrance for me, and I only wish I could ride in a train far more often. As for Hopper, his simplicity and warmth are just so appealing.

Ruth said...

Linda, oh no! Do you think someone might have thought I was "country"??


I love to hear that you, too, had those shoebox and brown bag picnics in a moving vehicle while watching the world go by.

Ruth said...

Boots, oh those are wonderful prospects for you and Nicholas! What a blast. Imagine how grown up he will feel!

Do you know, when I was 12 and traveled like this (a couple of times on the plane that year too), people asked me what college I attended. Apparently I had already done my physical growing up!

Ruth said...

Oliag! I had a response to you, and somehow it stayed in my head!

This is completely autobiographical, and as you see, quite happily so. Thank you for your attention and kind words, always.

Margaret said...

Mesmerizing, this snapshot back in time. I love the image of your little napkin snack and

the lap and arms of iron and steel
holding me, window-framed,
a vibrating twelve-year-old witness
to the dusky backside balconies
of yellow brick apartments

Ha! I could paste the whole poem here. :) Just sweet. I imagine you leaning back and closing your eyes and reliving this memory.

I participated, but didn't get mine linked in time... imagine that.

Brendan said...

Glad you joined the fray, Ruth -- The voyeuristic passage of the train out of the city must have been a wide-opened book on the adulthood to come of this speaker, secretaries on Michigan Avenue translated to these glimpses of city home life, window after window as the train chugs out of town. "Lap and arms of iron and steel," indeed. The daintiness of the girl eating a lunch packed by an urban sister played so keenly against the view of all those grown-up city females about their own victuals. Love it. - Brendan

Nelson said...

When I was ten and Susan nine, we were put on the "Wolverine" in Kalamazoo, arriving the next morning at Grand Central Station to spend time with G'ma & G'pa. I loved the ride, but was quite put out that we were instructed to stay in our coach - no train roaming allowed. Sadly, it seems that these feelings precluded my having memories like yours....ugh.

Friko said...

Ah yes, I have seen other poems written for this site.

You have described everything a short train journey is and the dreams dreamed on a train.
I like this very much.

amy@ Souldipper said...

"Is this seat taken?"
"It's free, please sit."
"Oh my gosh!"
"Are you Ayn Rand?"
"Why yes, but how do you know me?"
"I'm from 2011 and just read a poem written by someone I want you to meet."

Ruth said...

Hi, Margaret! Thanks for reading and your nice comment. I'll check out your train poem. I really wish I had more trains in my life.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Brendan, it's a great group of poets. Thanks a lot for reading and feeling the atmosphere of that younger me. I was so full of wishes that never materialized. Only lately have I begun to let all that go. Who knows, maybe it will come back to me some other way, maybe it already is.

Ruth said...

Nelson, ouch. :(

Imagine if you had been toured around by an engineer!

Ruth said...

Friko, thanks for reading and liking. I envy you in the UK for your trains (and the astonishing scenery where you live).

Ruth said...

Amy!! You are SO CUTE, and you gave me the best smile and aw shucks . . . !

Shari Sunday said...

I am determined to leave you a comment even though I have tried unsuccessfully a couple of times. Sign in problems with Blogger again. I enjoyed your poem. It reminded me of a great meal on a plane on the way home from a Chicago business trip. It was still fun to fly then. They served a box lunch of chicken croissant sandwich, apple, cheese and a cookie with a red checked paper napkin. The combination of a job well done, a mixed drink, a good lunch and being on the way back home induced a feeling of well being in me that your words brought back. Good job!

Ruth said...

Shari, drat, sorry about your blogger problems here.

I love that this poem-post brought back that wonderful memory of gratification for you. And yes, it was a red checked napkin, hearkening back to "the good ole days" eh?

Jeanie said...

I am continually amazed at the words you write. Your poetry is so evocative, I can see, smell, feel the motion of the train, and through the eyes of a 12-year old girl. Lovely. Simply lovely.

Susan said...

I love Amy's conversation. I love this poem...lets me get to know "little" Ruthie a little better. :)