Saturday, April 23, 2011

Reading Lessons

I'm in the homestretch of my April poetry challenge! The remaining eight poems are all of recent vintage, most of them written this month.

As I wrote recently, the poetry challenge has been hard for me. I've had more than one anxiety attack over the foolhardiness of this venture. Even now, the jury - my own internal handpicked jury - is still out as to whether this was a good thing for me to do.

On the other hand, focusing only on poetry for a month has made me aware of other things. For one, I have missed blogging about life, whether mine or the community's.  So much - the small moments, the small observations - has slipped through my fingers. I am more attentive when I am blogging. Another realization I have had is how little poetry there has been in my life in recent years. I don't mean writing poetry. I knew that was gone. No, I am talking about pulling a book of poems off the shelf and losing (or finding) myself in it for an afternoon. Living with my own poetry this month has made me acutely aware of that gap and I am resolved to slip poetry back into my life.

Something else has occurred to me: I don't write poetry about cancer or about living with cancer. I am hardly silent about cancer - a quick skim of the blog labels to the right tells you I write regularly about the disease that took up permanent residency in my body six and a half years ago. But with the exception of one haiku I dashed off this month in response to the Haiku-ca-choo! challenge to write a riddle, there is nothing in cancer or my life with it that would move me to poetry.

[Oh, I know, you are all wondering about my haiku. Remember, we were supposed to write a riddle.

Little turncoat! What
made you switch your allegiance?
Power? You rogue you.

The first two guesses were Arlen Specter and Joe Liberman, both of which were perfectly appropriate depending on your politics, and both of which just cracked me up. My answer, not nearly as good, was my bone marrow.]

So what am I inspired to write about? Small moments that catch my attention, little happenings that make me take a second or third look, phrases or pictures that make me imagine the life experiences of others. Like my blogging, my poetry also tends towards the little picture and the things I can touch (literally or figuratively).

The poem for today came about during a recent walk when I had to wait at the railroad tracks. It is a good read-aloud poem to catch the rhythm of a freight train clacking by.
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Photo from Eddie's Rail Fan Page

Reading Lessons

When I was a little girl, I loved to read off the names
Painted on the boxcars and gondolas and hoppers,
A roll call of America:
B & O, Pennsylvania, New York Central
Wabash, Santa Fe, Burlington
Rock Island, Grand Trunk, L & N
Denver Rio Grande & Western
Cotton Belt, Lehigh Valley, Soo Line
Reading, Frisco, Union Pacific
Erie Lackawanna
Seaboard Coastline.

My brother and I would hang over the front seat of the car,
racing to be the first to call out the line.
Frisco!
Wabash!
Chessie!
Rock Island!

Sometimes I would just chant them under my breath
To the rhythm of the train:
Er-ie Lack-a-wan-na
Er-ie Lack-a-wan-na
Cotton Belt, Cotton Belt
Er-ie Lack-a-wan-na.
Er-ie Lack-a-wan-na
Cotton Belt, Cotton Belt

Today while I was walking, the crossing guard blinked and
Clanged down.
I heard the locomotive's sharp call
And saw it coming down the tracks.

I stood back and watched the freight train roll through,
Car after car:
New cars, sleek cars,
Glossy black coal cars
Filled and heading north,
Rumbling through and then gone.
CSX every last one.

All work, no play.
(Rock Island, Burlington)
All business, no romance.
(New York Central, Soo Line)
No America to roll off your tongue.
(Denver Rio Grande & Western, Seaboard Coastline)

Nothing to read there.

Cotton Belt, Cotton Belt
Erie Lackawanna
Erie Lackawanna
Cotton Belt, Cotton Belt

Gone.

3 comments:

Katrina Vidal said...

I like the sonnets and the villanelles.
Katrina

Terri said...

How wonderful to replicate the rhythm of the trains. I always like to try to count them when I am waiting at a railroad crossing, although it tends to make me dizzy.

Karen said...

'Gone' is definitely the right word. It has the same sound as the air rushing in to fill the empty space where the train had been, married with the sound of that now-empty space being relieved of its heavy burden. It's the perfect word. And I'm a train buff too!