Thursday, November 20, 2008


As I lay awake last night, I heard several freight trains wailing in the distance. Train wails at night once struck me as lonely sounds, but in my 7th decade, they’ve taken on a friendlier tone. I think of them as a call to alertness, a time when I’m in touch with the center of things, plunged into watchfulness, listening to the dense whir of insects in profound darkness. It’s a time, perhaps, when mysteries are disclosed, when I’m open to illuminations of the Spirit.

When I lived in Iran, I rode a train through a long night from the desert in Ahwaz to a Shemiran garden in Tehran. At first, I felt terror as the train zoomed through the Elburz Mountains on a narrow track – on top of the world, it seemed. I shuddered, looking down at bottomless ravines, then slowly became calm. In a flash of revelation, I realized the falsity of the adage that East will never meet West. During the long night I became aware that God’s world is indeed one – and He is, as Teilhard de Chardin says, at the heart of the universe. That ride was a time of intimate union, and that union was born on a night watch. I was fully alert when I was blessed with morning light as we arrived at a well in Qum where women were bringing their pitchers to fill at a long trough. I stepped from the train, refreshed and taken with the sun.

So, train wails in the night can be sounds that incite alertness and revelations rather than loneliness. On a lighter note, I’ve always wanted to travel on the Orient Express and was disappointed to read recently that there is no longer a Paris to Istanbul route which I’ve had romantic notions about traveling since I read MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS by Dame Agatha Christie. Of course that route existed only during the 30’s when the Orient Express was at its apex as a luxury train, and the route has been changed many times since.

Perhaps I’ll have to confine my rail travel to listening to midnight wails of the freight trains and Amtrak passing through the Queen City each night – or to writing poems about trains; e.g., two that appear in my chapbooks, MORE CROWS and JUST PASSING THROUGH:


Midnight train shrieks a warning signal,
the whistle of velocity moving forward

toward a final destination in cold darkness,
an old redcap announcing this place

too far from home.


The night hawk travels through bleak passes,
whistling loneliness,

the Earl of travel charging space,
tracks leading everywhere

toward some isolated station,
waybill hooks still hanging,

worn bench outside,
ready for the itinerant traveler

waiting to be transported…
into the whoo of memory.
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