Tracks

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Tracks
McAdam Railway Station #12

“Put your fingertips on the rail,
see if you can feel its pulsing beat.

No heart rail rhythm now. No tremble.
Put your ear on cold metal:

nothing but silence. No murmur,
however distant. Black fly whine.

No-see-ums flit. The train track’s
buzz of harmony is lost and gone,

replaced by careless nature. Listen
to the wind whistling in the woods,

hark to spring sounds, so subtle,
grass growing, rust accumulating,

sleepers turning over in their graves,
silent, rotting beneath forgotten rails.”

Comment: Nothing so lonely as an abandoned railway track, rusting beneath snow and rain, the wooden sleepers rotting into oblivion. That said, the Southern New Brunswick Railway still carries freight trains through McAdam, and it is the railway station that suffered, with the loss of passenger traffic, rather than the rails themselves. What a pleasure, incidentally, to hear the hoot of the approaching diesel, to count the wagons as the train came to a halt outside the station. Then came the joy of watching the engine separate wagons from the main train, shunt them into sidings, return, and take the freight train, slow at first, but rapidly gathering speed, out of the station and away into the distance. Such memories. So many ghost trains riding those rails. So many ghosts bewitching the windmills of the child’s mind that still inhabits the ageing brain.

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Murals

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Murals
McAdam Railway Station #11

Painting a mural,
inside, interior
wall, knowing it will
stand time’s test.

Viaduct broken,
a tumbled engine,
Canadian workers,
railwaymen all,

some from Macadam,
pebbled the floor,
handrail, radiator
camouflaged for war,

part of the painting.
Depart from the station.
Turn right. Straight ahead,
flaked peeling paint.

So sad, this outside
mural, exposed to winter’s
snow, frost, winds, and ice.
So vulnerable

and so ephemeral.
Such a short-lived
summer, over in a day.
Butterfly on a rock.

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Comment: This sequence comes from the indoor and outdoor work (murals) of my friend Geoff Slater. Geoff told me how ephemeral were the outdoor murals with a life-span of about ten years before they needed redoing. After that, the paint starts to fade, then crack, then dry and peel away. Our Canadian winters with their icy cold and the ensuing springs with their frost and thaw do not help. The protection, no ice, no snow, no sun, no rain, afforded to the interior murals means that they will last so much longer. Our outdoor art, unless cast in the firmest stone, is ephemeral. Like a butterfly, it will not last much longer than a brief summer day. Hence the final metaphor.

S.O.S

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S. O .S.
McAdam Railway Station #8

“Dozing in the cab, I was.
Smelt a different smoke.
It wasn’t my engine’s.

Looked around.
Saw flames. One, two,
three houses on fire.

Steam was up. Yessir.
Three short hoots I gave.
Three long. Three short.

S.O.S. Mayday. Mayday.
S.O.S. S.O.S. Kept going
till house lights came on.

People running. Leaving homes.
Jumped out of the cab.
Ran out to help them.

They thanked me.
Said I had saved their lives.
What else could I have done?”

Comment: This is a third hand poem. It came to me from Geoff who heard the story from the hardware store owner who witnessed the fire. The narrator is the anonymous engine driver who raised the alarm. Of course I don’t know exactly what he did, said, or thought. Our knowledge of history can be divided into two great moments: the momentous events, recorded by expert historians via diligent research, and intra-historia, as Miguel de Unamuno, that great Spanish philosopher and rector of Salamanca University called it, referring to those small, individual moments when history is made by anonymous human beings who did what they had to do and then faded into the anonymity of a distant past, now wrapped in silence, as is the store-keeper and the driver of the train.

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Defenestration

 

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Defenestration
McAdam Railway Station 4

“When I first walked
by that tiny window,
right up there,
on the third floor,
I wanted to go up to it,
to stand there, to look out.

There was a young girl,
went up there one morning,
opened the window,
and threw herself out.

She must have been desperate.
Rejected by her lover,
who knows what state she was in.”

Defenestration?
It’s a funny word,
I had to look it up.

It’s from the Latin:
de means out from,
fenestra is the window,
fenêtre in French.

“She just opened the window
and threw herself out.”

Comment:  Geoff, in his role as tour guide, took Clare up to the third floor, showed her this window, and told her the story of the young girl who had jumped out, killing herself in the process. Clare said she was fascinated by the story and felt an urgent desire to stand there, and look out of the window. I am so glad she didn’t feel the need to throw herself out. Oral tradition: I love the way stories are passed from mouth to mouth, changing slightly all the while. Why did the young woman kill herself? Was she pregnant? We can only speculate and I guess we’ll never know for certain.

Carpe Diem

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Carpe Diem

This tube of toothpaste,
nearing its end,
folded over, again and again,
doubled into itself.

Squeeze it tight.
It’s all you’ve got.
Spread it on
the worst teeth.

Brush as you always did,
with hope, up and down,
not sideways. Nothing
before means anything.

Everything afterwards
is merely hope or dream.
A child, you chased
wind-blown leaves

catching them before
they hit the ground.
A scarecrow now, scarred
with age, arms held out,

palms up, hoping a leaf
will descend, a sparrow
rest in your hand,
or on your shoulder.

Call Girl

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Call Girl
McAdam Railway Station 1

“She came down from Montreal
to look after all the railway workers.
We called her the Call Girl.”
The men in the room sit up
and pay attention. The women
look rather expectant.

“She was a great worker,
performed her duties willingly.
Up at four in the morning,
out into the streets,
knocking on the men’s doors,
waking them up for work
with her morning call.

We called her the Call Girl
because it was her vocation.
she was called to call.”

Comment:
I visited McAdam Railway Station last week, a Canadian National Heritage Site. The guides who were there, many of them members of the local historical society, were well-versed in tales of the station and the people who used to pass through there. I listened to their words with great care, admiring the quality of their images and speech, the terseness and accuracy of their words. This sequence of poems is based upon those people, excellent guides and raconteurs in the best sense of the word. These are their words, not mine, and with their permission, I am posting their stories here. The first poem was spoken by Elsie. Thank you so much, Elsie, for allowing me to share your words. Click this link to the McAdam Railway Station site if you want to see some great photos and read about the history of the McAdam Railway Station.

 

 

 

After the Floods

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After the Floods
(2004 BC)

as the crow flies
so the pigeon
holding straws
within its beak
time to rebuild

not so easy
mud walls fallen flat
rubble and rubbish
litter river banks

warped wooden planks
water-swollen
so much stolen
by wind and wave

who now knows
the unknown
perceives the abyss
beneath egg-frail
cockle-shell hulls

waters recede
islands re-emerge
bald skulls of hillocks
stripped of grass and trees
water-logged fields

old bones dug up
displayed in the ditch