Maybe it’s all those movies we watched as kids. Lovers parting or greeting at train stations. Murders on the Orient Express. Windows and windows of blurry landscape, all to the comforting rumble of the tracks and the horn.
It came back to me while reading Faith Shearin’s poem, “The Sound of a Train.” It seems there’s more than you think in this simple sound. It seems to harbor certain common desires of leaving, starting over, finding dreams we have long given up on.
The Sound of a Train
by Faith Shearin
Even now, I hear one and I long to leave
without a suitcase or a plan; I want to step
onto the platform and reach for
the porter’s hand and buy a ticket
to some other life; I want to sit
in the big seats and watch fields
turn into rivers or cities. I want to eat
cake on the dining car’s
unsteady tablecloths, to sleep
while whole seasons
slip by. I want to be a passenger
again: a person who hears the name
of a place and stands up, a person
who steps into the steam of arrival.
The lines that most resonate? “I want too…buy a ticket to some other life,” and “I want to be a passenger / again… a person / who steps into the steam of arrival.”
At some point most everyone asks themselves questions like these: What happened? Exactly when was I separated from my life’s dreams? How did I get here, and how do I get out of here?
A train, of course. It is a metaphor for escape, much more intimate with the land and its fast-moving hopes than a plane. It takes time, is patient, affords its passengers plenty of time to ruminate on the future (as opposed to the past). It offers the comfort of a ticket pressed hard between thumb and finger, a ticket stating, “I am a passenger.”
Somehow, because of all of this, and because the myth of trains as saviors is just that—a myth—trains have come to be associated, in some minds, with sadness. When I hear the horn of a train, it brings to mind the call of a loon. Elongated, eerie, sad. “What went wrong?” I might ask myself. “Why haven’t I gone places? When did I get stuck in one place, one life, like this?”
My train poem, then, speaks to some of these bittersweet sentiments. I wrote it for my second book, Lost Sherpa of Happiness:
by Ken Craft
Outside before the day
breaks with joy, the first sound I hear:
dark whistle of the Ashland train.
It speaks of paths
overgrown, people stepped past,
dreams diagnosed as sleep.
The fading climbs inside me, curls
a last bend, settles soft in memory’s slow.
I walk on without it, with it within,
my ribs its worn tracks, my heart its worn rumble.