Thursday, April 12, 2018


Cowan Railroad Museum, photograph by Victoria Sullivan

Trains have always fascinated me, and one of the activities on my bucket list is a ride on the Orient Express. Many of my poems have featured trains and train depots, subjects about which I thought of writing and photographing until I discovered a book already published about train rides, dinner trains, museums, and depots entitled Tourist Trains Guidebook that I found in Bryson, North Carolina, site of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. This railroad was created from a portion of Southern Railway’s Branch and hugs the Tuckaseegee and Nantahala Rivers, ascends a mountain at Red Marble Gap, and zooms out over a 700-foot trestle at Fontana Lake.

Closer to home is the Cowan Railroad Museum in Cowan, Tennessee that I tried to visit today, a place that houses photographs, relics, and memorabilia from the steam age in a century-old depot. Vickie photographed the exterior of the historic depot for this blog, but I've never been inside and won’t be able to visit until May when it re-opens. I’ve learned that there are displays of figures in period costumes, model trains, and 1,000 interesting items for first-time visitors. I’ll have to schedule a May tour, but meanwhile, today, I could hear the trains “whooing” as we lunched in the Fiesta Mexican Restaurant beside the rails, across the way from the Cowan Museum. I was grateful for the scant sunlight and a diversion from illness.

This afternoon, as I write, I look at the end poem in Just Passing Through, a volume that contains some of my train poems, and I feel even more strongly about the lines in the end "snippet" entitled “End Times” that I wrote in 2007. The single verse actually describes a dismayed reaction to tribal quarrels I’ve observed that still persist in certain “corners” today.

Not burned to death
or frozen to death
but warred to death,
the planet excelling in hate,
a desperation to own too many corners,
saying too little about love,
Lewis’s explication of agape
falling on truculent ears
that listen to a different drummer —
the rumble of cannon.

On several trips to the West, I became enchanted with a historic train that runs through the desert from Santa Fe, New Mexico along the spur to the city of Lamy. The train I saw was a working freight train, and I wrote about it in ”The Santa Fe Is,” in Just Passing Through, the chapbook mentioned above:

No covert traveler,
the train boils through High Desert,
red, blue, and yellow freight cars,
imperatives on the landscape
traveling everywhere.
In the pinpoint of my eye,
miniature boxes of color
fret empty plains,
make me aware of destinations,
distant mountains.
We pass small stations
snoring at track side
while the bright colored cars sway
on miles and miles of track
like ants relocating,
good times left behind,
mirages passed,
a lonely figure waving
from the engine window,
face turned toward
an indifferent there going on forever…

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