richard l'anson

Two Stories Down
by Penny Harter

Two stories down, outside my office window, a train rushes by, its lit windows answering my own. During my six years here, I have cataloged the varying sounds of the trains that run past this apartment building day and night—the quiet electric passenger engines, the abrasively loud diesels, and the clatter of cars with flattened wheels.

It’s bitter cold tonight, and snow still mounds the dirt between the tracks. I remember the dead deer we saw sprawled across those tracks two winters ago. Several mornings after, we watched vultures dig deeper into its flesh, and then the crows. Within a week, only bones remained.

just meat
that body on the train
that hurtles by

The winter our cat Purr died, we climbed down onto the wooded slope above the tracks to bury her, heaped a pile of brush and dead leaves on her grave. Earlier today, driving over the railroad bridge, I looked down but could no longer find the spot.

moving day—
a few leaves still
on the trees

I turn away, pull down the blind. I have boxes to pack.

saying goodbye
to echoing rooms—whose face
stares from the mirror?

PHOTO: “Train Tracks in Snow” by Richard l’Anson. Prints available at

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “Two Stories Down” is a haibun, a Japanese genre that combines poetic prose and haiku. The haiku should relate to the mood/theme but not be a direct part of the narrative. Two months after my late husband, William J. (Bill) Higginson died, I had to move from our huge, old apartment in Summit, New Jersey, down to the Jersey Shore area near to where my daughter and family live. I wrote this piece as I was packing up and preparing to move to a small condo. It’s hard to leave memories behind, especially shared memories with a recently dead spouse. But both financially and emotionally it was the right decision for me. I’ve been here almost eight years now. The piece is from my chapbook of poems charting my progress through grief toward healing, poems written during the first eighteen months after Bill died. That chapbook, Recycling Starlight, is currently out of print but scheduled for a second printing by Mountains and Rivers Press in 2017.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Penny Harter is a mom, grandma, and sometimes poet-teacher for the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Her work has appeared in many journals and anthologies, and in 22 collections (including chapbooks). Her recent books and chapbooks include The Resonance Around Us (2013); One Bowl (a prizewinning e-chapbook of haibun, 2012); Recycling Starlight (2010); The Beastie Book, an illustrated alphabestiary (2009); and The Night Marsh (2008). She was a featured reader at both the first (1985) and the 2010 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, and she has won three poetry fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts; the Mary Carolyn Davies Award from the Poetry Society of America; the first William O. Douglas Nature Writing Award for her work in the anthology American Nature Writing 2002; and two residencies (January 2011; March 2015) from Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Visit her at