train to the cosmos
Present Continuous, Meaning Past,
Implying Future
by Paula J. Lambert

I am waiting for the train and
I am thinking how much I like

trains (the present tense here,
the present continuous, means

past, past tense, and implies
how often this happens) and

I am thinking of all that trains
have taught me: the way out,

a way back in, the journey
(journey is overused, of course,

but still useful) that tangle of
meaning when trains approach

tunnels (no way to stop a train,
etc., but I’d rather not go down

that particular track) and I am
standing here squinting toward

perspective (you don’t forget
that point once you’ve learned it,

don’t stop seeing it, searching
for it) and I am straining to hear

the whistle blow and I can’t stop
glancing over my shoulder to

where the tracks lead: mystery,
adventure, forward, yonder,

the destination (that’s another
tired phrase, one that never has

seemed apt, as tracks and trains
never end). I am still waiting for

the next train to come (present
continuous, implying future,

a kind of arrival) so when it finally
stops, I can step up, step inside,

scan the seats, and decide: will I
face forward or back on this ride,

will I arrive on time, will this all
be worth it, will the train derail

or just slide on into the station
the way trains are supposed to?

That’s what stations are designed
for, all that arriving and arriving

and arriving. But that’s the part
I never seem to get to, never think

about, as I’m squinting down
the track, looking for perspective,

straining to hear the whistle, still
just waiting for the train to come.

PHOTO: Train to the Cosmos by Aaron J. Groen. Prints available at

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I grew up a block or so away from the train tracks that ran through the center of my tiny hometown and have always loved the sound of a train’s whistle. It was a thrill to ride the train “into town” when we were kids—that meant going in to Boston with my parents for a special outing or shopping trip. Later, I rode the commuter rail regularly when I was going to art school in Boston, home every weekend on the train; two of my siblings still commute to work on the train today, 35 or so years later. As a kid, I knew the train led to the airport, and from there you could go anywhere in the world. So I never felt confined to that small town. I knew the train could take you places—and that, when you were ready, it could take you home again, too.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paula J. Lambert of Columbus, Ohio, has authored several collections of poetry including How to See the World (Bottom Dog Press 2020). Recipient of two Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Awards and two Greater Columbus Arts Council Resource Grants, she has twice been in residence at Virginia Center for Creative Arts. She owns Full/Crescent Press, a small publisher of poetry books and broadsides through which she has founded and supported numerous public readings and festivals that support the intersection of poetry and science. Learn more at Visit her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.