Train Poem

 

Rumbling Through Dreams

 

I.

At midnight and two, it shook walls

with a diesel and steel roar

that could wake the deaf,

yet in a little house built next to tracks,

my brother and I,

stacked in bunk beds,

slept a practiced sleep

as the Burlington Northern rumbled West through our dreams.

II.

Walking in measured steps

from crosstie to crosstie,

I followed that line,

eyes forever to the horizon,

never losing sight of the point

where it all comes together,

stopping only to mine the best pieces of rose quartz,

mica, and coal,

from beside the tracks.

When a train would come, off in the distance,

before moving clear,

like an Indian, I put my ear

to the rail just to hear

the music of steel rolling over steel.

And, at the end of the day,

all walked out,

I dropped my treasure in a tattered sneakers box

with collected stamps, Bicentennial quarters,

Navajo tears, and letters from grandparents

half a continent away.

III.

In the mornings before breakfast

in arid Colorado summers,

I ran to the tracks

to the special place on the rail where I put pennies

the night before,

smoothed flat by impact and mass

of trains carrying coal from the mountains,

sugar beats from the eastern plains,

delighting in the occasional remnant of Lincoln—

a nose, an ear, an eye, a texture of beard,

an e pluribus unum,

each atom of currency destroyed each a different way.

IV.

I dream of riding trains,

of snaking serpentine through the American patchwork.

East Coast forests blending

into Great Plains wheat,

rolling Ohio hills flattening

into the Kansas horizon

slamming into the sheer granite faces

of Rocky Mountain cliffs

and then, through desert sand,

to the sea.

I dream of salt mist and factory smoke,

ponderosa pine and sequoia,

of rain pelted windows and thick valley fog.

I dream and in my dreams, I ride trains

and do not make good time

but rather ride forever on trains that never stop,

longing to reach the place just ahead,

the elusive point of perspective

where the rails merge,

where the separate become singular,

where all things bind together

to be the one thing, whole.

 

© 2008, all rights reserved by the author.

 

 

Winding Down as the World Wakes

Morning

It is a simple act,
the brewing of coffee in the chill
of a dark March morning.

My cheap automatic drip machine
belches and spits a grotesque sound
as pleasing as any cello concerto
or crow squawk,
making music to make me wake.

The sun will rise soon.

This sky will move from black to gray
and from the window of this low-rent,
one-bedroom apartment
I’ll see the three-story side of Queen City
TV & Appliance,
its top to bottom cracked wall anointed
with a healing concrete salve and stitched up
by two iron bars bolted into brick.

But now it is only a black slab in invisible decay
in the shadows of new monuments
straining up from downtown Charlotte streets,
scratching at the horizon with jagged spires of steel and glass
shiny like aluminum foil crowns
littering the sky like a playground.

Cars already begin to sputter by on the streets below.
A block away to the West, an ambulance siren screams,
dopplering around a corner.
Buses will soon lumber by
with their high pitched diesel moans and sighs,
short sharp squeals of air brake expulsions.

Ceiling creakings above me signify movement,
an unknown body staggering
into the consciousness of another day.
It is business a s usual:
a toilet flush,
a cascading of pressure-fed water through
a shower nozzle
bouncing off a metal tub.

The sun has risen, silently.

I somehow always expect to hear it creak and groan
in the well-worn motions of a task
so ancient and lasting
that maybe we don’t even notice the sounds;
the universe itself being such a well-oiled,
well-maintained cog works,
its machinations leaving us in a silence
we don’t even notice our own noisy bumbling
through the days and nights of our movement.

And remarkable even yet is the singing of birds,
pigeons and robins,
dingy with the dusts of city living.
Early morning light finds them perched on power lines
through which the juice of coffee makers and electric alarm clocks
flows in turbine generated currents.

The brick wall through my window begins to glow
as only orange and red cooked clay can,
vibrant and dull.

Coffee has brewed and I sip it slowly in new light
where somewhere away from this city
dogwood trees bloom fragrant, crucifix blossoms
and finches and towhees may sing sweeter songs
than the awkward soundings
of mocking birds on telephone lines
in the center of a rumbling city

yawning and cursing itself awake.

© 2008 by Shawn Pavey.  All rights reserved.

 

Universal Fireworks

Leonid Meteor Shower with James

 

I.

 

Our bodies clothed against air cold

      enough to freeze water where it stands,

James and I stand and look skyward, to the northwest,

 

      sipping coffee in the dark of our yard.

 

Crazy enough, we two,

to watch rock burn in the sky

        as the matter and the atoms of the matter

break down,

component parts reassembling

into something altogether new.

 

II.

 

This, we will not see again.

 90 years will pass.

We will not see

this rain of rock

of fire                          of ash

 

mingling with the air we breathe.

 

We will not taste on our tongues burning

sky, crackling energy, as steam

from our breath swirls a silvered

motion away from our bundled up selves.

 

Big as fists, big as elephants’ heads, as small as a grain of sand,

meteors

 

sizzled dark sky two hours before dawn

November’s July 4th fireworks

raining bright fire

down on us,

incandescent particles

exploding into air connecting us

to all that is in

this infinite expanse

where we spin in perfect symmetry.

 

III.

 

90 years will pass,

politicians will die.

Captains of industry                will die.

Priests                                      will die.

And monks.

And James.

And me.

 

Before meteors meet us again,

lighting a dark night with embers,

we will all die.

 

IV.

 

Bringing fire,

meteors will shimmer a dark sky,

 

they will pour upon the earth,

spread dusts from places we have not seen,

 

they will come again

out of darkness as before

 

when the world still steamed in the chill

from its new birth.

 

They will bring with them

fire, a breath they will breathe

into bones and dust and ash,

 

they will breathe into the air, stain the sea,

vapor into clouds a fresh mattering.

 

Who will stand in the cold dark then?

Who will smell the fire in the night?

 

Will they coat themselves against frost and ice,

drink the black coffee of morning before light,

will they delight in a spectacle of fiery mists,

 

will they fix their eyes on heaven?

© 2008, Shawn Pavey.  All rights reserved.

For Lucille Clifton

Dear Lucille
On the passing of Lucille Clifton, 1936 – 2010

I would like to think
that B.B. King named his guitar for you.
I know he didn’t. We in the know
know the myth
the real story –

we know that it is not you
whom he played to make music so sweet
that I, a grown man, cry when I hear it –

but I am comforted thinking it is so
even though you did not need a man
for making music, your wide hips
spinning men like tops
(we never doubted it for a second!)

and your words spinning out
to the sky because the pages could not
hold them for long, Lucille,
could not keep them silent all black and white

your words like you bigger than what they laid upon
and they echo like you now that you’re gone

so that sadness cannot take
hold for long, Lucille.

© 2010, Shawn Pavey. All rights reserved.

Time and What Happens In It

Tempus Fugue

“Do I dare disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”

— T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

And on the moonlit sundial on Morehead planetarium’s lawn
we lay right down
you and I
accompanied by trumpets of breeze moving the flesh
of raven leaves resonating eternal rhythms
of chlorophyll filled veins stiffened toward stars in prayer
in the center of all things born and dead and unborn
echoing at once
a symphony of spheres staining the night in a resolute
paradox of existence and non-existence
light and dark
all time and no time without time to measure

and we
drunk on complexity’s thick nectar
of chaos and order
bound to all things here and there
now and forever
then and never
by grace

became travelers in time and space
grasping at the impossibility of moments just passed
giddy like children

when at that moment a camera
would have captured us static on our backs
lying in the middle of the round ball of all time
your tiny slender fingers woven into mine
creating a single connection
on a dial unlit by sun
calculating nothing
as two dark bodies at rest stared
pupils wide
up to where explanation finds only mystery
and God balancing
now and never
then and forever
amen.

© Shawn Pavey, 2008

Bare-boned

Architecture

“Grisly, foul, and terrific
is the speech of bones”
— Donald Hall

Brittle and dry,
white and empty
of marrow – bones
cook in a desert sun.

Molecules in the heat
crack wide open,
atoms spill out onto sand
a fine powder once alive.

Vestige of frame,
purpose of structure,
crumbles and flakes
layer after layer.

Over what was once coyote, wind
thunders through skull cavities,
howls a vox phasmatis.

© 2011, Shawn Pavey
Previously published in Cant.