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CEMENT CARS When I was seventeen years old, Somewhere west of Fargo, North Dakota, I jumped between two cement cars, Two railroad cars rolling seventy: leapt Over the blurred gravel roadbed Over the two grinding couplers Over the shrieking wheels Back and forth past death From one swaying metal platform To the other I jumped: Over the arc of my fear. I wanted to be a poet, I wanted to touch all nature, I wanted to be a young hero. Then, some weeks later, Again riding on a cement car, This time east toward Spokane, I watched the drunk tramp beside me Just walk off. I watched his body hit the gravel One bounce and a sickening tumble. I felt my guilt flare: I could have tried to stop him, But instinct had held me back. I threw off his pathetic baggage, Though he was long gone in the distance, Then sat huddled in the growing darkness. Six years later, I rode through a desert night, I laid on that same platform, A three-inch lip holding me From rolling off and under the wheels As I tried to sleep, A warm rack of beer vibrating Beside me in that soft night wind. The moonlight moving over my eyelids The banging of the cement car in my dreams The clear smell of the desert in my dreams. I slept and I slept.
TRAINS What these vague memories drawn through The mind like a restless tremble of fever? What has informed these blurred images? This night train halt in a Pullman sleeper, Sentinel platform lights wreathed by fog, A face white against the moist glass, These moving lips are whispering, as Steam caresses the locomotive's drivers, A wet cement platform glistening empty, As an ancient conductor calls, All-laboard, As a whistle signs to departure's darkness. More steam now in a vast passenger shed, Overhead the engineers' crisscross of iron Like a hallucinogen's etched pattern, the Soot patina of endless departed consists. A baggage cart creaks, languidly pushed, The leather of the stickered trunks and bags, Eased along the polished baggage car floor. A small lighted kiosk way down the platform, "Paper, sir?" and yes, wrapped sandwiches, magazines, candy, and the always cup of coffee. And then the pale long legs of a woman as she Hands herself up through the open Pullman door, Her red coat for an instant offering precious inches. The blind wander of the travel weary, The tossed minute firework of a cigar end, The crash of two couplers’ metallic mate, The violent outbreath of an air-hose release, Why are these fragments so known? And now these thin oriental rugs and hardwood floors, There, metal tracks to carry voltage from room to room, There the locomotive smoke and the haunt of the whistle Runs along the wainscoted walls and marble fireplaces. The passenger cars light the loomed wool and waxed wood, Move through each darkening room with the certainty of time, This twilight caressing the mind, till it reaches level, like A ship rising slowly in a lock. This is not my childhood! Whose memories are these? For they can not be mine.
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