i. Especially on warm nights with the window cracked, I hear the trains. That long moan pulls me out into the sultry, rippling air, over the city to jump onboard an empty boxcar, lean back, and let myself be taken.
ii. My train pulls in to a busy station in Calcutta, India where, on a platform across the tracks, a solid wall of travelers tilts forward, faces turned in anticipation, faces showing no sign of recognition of that boy down there who has been transformed into something flat and geometric between metal rails and wooden ribs, more like a rug than a human child. The saffron-colored fabric of his shirt waves in the breeze.
iii. Someone slaps the lights off and I’m falling, nowhere, falling. This must be a tunnel.
iv. In Geneva I arrive at the station without francs, after curfew, and must perch on my backpack in front of an enormous vending machine where biscuits and cheeses and chocolate and yoghurt and sausages and nut cakes and apples and sardines and pasties tempt from behind a wall of thick and spotless glass. Welcome to Switzerland.
v. Written with sharpie on back of the seat ahead: “u r almost there.”
vi. On the red line at Downtown Crossing, it’s at least 110° down here and I’m understanding Whitman, down with Dante, dizzy with sweat in my eyes and lungs filled with metal filings, hot oil, and ancient dirt and thinking this is not a nice way to die, this is not how I want to go.
vii. First in line at the red light, boxcars thundering, I grip the steering wheel and wonder: What if I didn’t obey that little red light? One sickening slip of the foot and then….
viii. Every every time I stand at the sink to do the dishes, I have the same thought. The same irrelevant notion creeps into my brain like it’s been waiting there beside the sponge for my return. (I wonder: Do thoughts hover like clouds over certain locations? Do places trigger ideas? Ghost thoughts, ancestral impulses, places wrapped up in time, chestnut won ton; the train of thought tracks through gray matter, wearing ruts.)
ix. So this is a story you tell yourself: the world has ended (who knows why. Nuclear disaster, some rogue virus, something like that,) and we’re the last ones left, the ones in this compartment, so take a good look around. Which ones will be on your team and which will cause all the trouble? Who will be your mate? You have to choose: The fate of the world depends on you. Study those faces hard and make your decision before the next stop.
x. The clack of wheels rocked you to sleep and you wake with a start, stranger in a strange land, with a blossom of drool on your breast pocket. Whereamiwhoami? For one moment, anything’s possible. You could get off here, in this town. You could call yourself “Jessica” or “Fisher” or “Lemonhead” or “Hieronymous.” You could take the first job you stumbled over. You could start over.
(Clack, clack,clack, rocking back and forth, moving along. Are you getting sleepy?)
For this post, I was inspired by the Satsumabug Blog. Lisa is full of great ideas!
Good lord! I want to read this again and again because I know that there are different subtleties of language and turns of phrase that will shine brighter for me on subsequent readings. This reads like delicious poetry, and reminds me of the chains of dreams I can have during a night when I’m lucky enough to get to sleep.
Number ii scared me to pieces, like the technicolor nightmare that makes me weep, so evocative that it haunts me and won’t let me forget.
I agree that Lisa is full of good ideas! You are awfully good with a prompt yourself. I loved this!
number ii scared me to pieces, too. my train was pulling out of the station and I stood there without breathing for a long time.
Oh my god I think I was trying to will it to be a dream because I couldn’t bear to think that it was a memory. I’m so sorry for all the neglected children in the world in life and in death. As horrible as this was I’m glad you wrote it down. He’s remembered by another person because you did.
This is so incredible, Anna! It’s so good to read your take on this… good, and humbling. 🙂 I agree with Ré that I would eagerly read it again and again. I also would love to hear you read it; it sounds like something that should be experienced aurally as well as in text (maybe with train sounds in between the numbered bits).
Ooh! Like that idea about the train noises. And maybe something visual, too. Hand-held footage taken out the window of a moving train? I think I’ll hire someone to read for me, though. Someone with a bigger voice, someone more believable. Thank you so much for the idea and inspiration, Lisa!
Hi Anna, this interaction of thoughts on your train piece is fascinating and inspired me to post this link of musical compostion by Alva Noto and Ryuchi Sakamoto entitled Berlin. I love their collaborations in the IDM music genre.
The video was shot from a moving train traveling through Berlin, Germany. There is another artist, I will try and find a link to of one of his songs that have train sounds in it. It reminds me of “EL” (elevated / underground) train system of often rode in Philadelphia.
What a mesmerizing video!
Yes! Walter, that is perfect. Makes me feel like an inanimate object moving through space. Funny how when you’re sitting on a train, your mind is triggered to many disconnected thoughts by seeing things move across your “screen”– that happened to me while watching this video, too.
Very nice, I love the visual expression I get from your writing. Trains and traveling from one place to another alone or with strangers is a mystery in of itself.
Thanks, Walter. Travel is strange, isn’t it? An out-of-body experience.
Poetry. This is wonderful and oddly romantic for someone who’s never been on a train. But I’ve waited at a lot of crossings, and I’ve always felt the same thing: what if my foot slips off the brake? What if I’m rear-ended and pushed onto the tracks?
Glad to know I’m not the only paranoiac. (Does the freeway freak you out, too? 😉 )
Travel is really strange. I almost always fly with forebodings of terrible events, and the idea of a plane crash inevitably crosses my mind, at which point I look around at my fellow passengers, look at all their faces as if to imprint them in my brain, because these would be the people I would die with.
Cheerful, eh? 🙂
On a separate note, it would be so totally surreal to start over….
Very cool imagery Anna…I like it. Once again, a thought-provoking post.
I love Lisa’s prompts too! And you did a fab job with this one.
Thanks, Munira! There is something very unnatural/bizarre about bulleting through space. Glad to know it’s not only me!
I love trains. I suffer from car sickness, air sickness, boat sickness but oddly enough I do not get sick on trains.
I absolutely adored this piece. Seriously. You should get this published. I just love the way it’s organized, the loose stream, the way you board a train in India and get off in Switzerland… There’s a very dreamlike quality to this piece that really resonates with me.
love it and the train blog! just added them to my blog 🙂 carlasaunders.com
Hey! Thank you for the kind mention, Carla! And I’m so glad you found Lisa’s blog. She is a good blog-friend to have.
I say the same for you, Anna!
I love your story. I have always used the train and subway to get to my work located one hour and a half from my home I learned a lot about human nature and of course on me too because it was like a mirror. I a sure I “educated” myself by correcting me I did not like in others. And I was very amused when someone suddenly dropped his head on the passenger next to him. To be honest, it happened to me recently an adventure because I was awakened abruptly by the train stopped and the sound of the speaker and I jumped off the train at the last minute. I found myself in the station and I realized that my hands were empty and I had forgotten my bag and especially what was inside. The funny thing is before I dreamed very often that I lost my bag and I realized that it was not the bag that was important but what I was (my identity)!
I would like to reassure you, I no longer dream now and I love taking the train especially the high-speed train (TGV in France). I love the video and the laughter of the people and every time I take the subway, I imagine the scene and maybe soon I will cause myself a laugh because people are not particularly smiley on the subway in Paris.
Thank you for your lovely insights here. I have always found the train to be a very interesting place where I might rub shoulders and learn about people I’d probably never meet elsewhere. People are never very smiley on trains, are they? I think it’s because if we smile, then we feel responsible for one another. A smile is a promise to be like a friend. It’s an invitation to a relationship of some kind. I wonder how the world would feel if we all smiled at one another?
who hears in the night,
the train’s sharp whistle,
cut off the top
of chickweed and thistle
flutter the birds
that drowse in the willow
and rouse the boy
from his frosty pillow?
Who hears in the night
the wheels that mutter
past mill and grave
past barn and shutter
is the boy for whom
all time unravels
who’ll swallow the wind
and go on his travels.
This poem by Elizabeth Riddell is one of my favorites
your story reminded of it. Like you have somehow found the
train it mentions – can you buy a ticket, or must you leap abord
and hang on for dear life?
What a wonderful, eerie poem. Thank you for introducing me to this poet! I’ll have to go read more (and to go read more of you, as well!) Thank you for finding me!
Under The Cherry Tree, by Cynthia Mitchell and Satomi Ichikawa.
It’s a collection of pomes I’ve had since I was little. It’s full of mystical
magic just like that, and it’s still in print.
Thanks for subscribeing. Enjoy Rust.
Pingback: Friday Open Mic! featuring Anna Fonté (Girl in the Hat) | the Satsumabug blog
Nice post. Very rich in details creating the experience .
Thank you for stopping by!!!
I absolutely LOVED this LIST Literature about train travel! Loved it! What a brilliant device for being creative and getting the ideas flowing. I especially loved nine and ten. Perfect! Cheers!
Pingback: Experiment with Formats | The Daily Post