Archives for posts with tag: trains

by Matthew Gilbert

Keys jingling in the candy bowl
knocked over by a bad luck cat—
I put them there last night. Too many
drinks after that fifth shot of overtime,
I remember I also misplaced myself.

In the subway, I sum up steps
taken from street to turnstile
so maybe I’ll find my way back
despite the locked-in mechanism
of a single-use ticket.

Masses of disregarded ghosts crowd
the bullet train. I weigh their worth.
But stop-changing means infinity
when bodies don’t belong,
and names mean cost efficiency.

And funerals mean personal days
we can’t afford because living
is out of our spending range.
I eye a figure fingering coins
in his hollowed hand.

At the transfer platform,
I contemplate deferring the train,
wonder how far a ten would get me.
I recognize a friend, his casual stride down
the stairway. He throws up a hand.

Six past years and still those poker
nights losing, small-living-room-laughter,
made betting worthwhile. All chips in,
I have forgotten how to wager
anything but my own body.

Over the intercom, a man announces last call.
When the train arrives, we all pack inside.
I wonder what kind of people live on Third.
The railways screech their daily motions.
I am still waiting to miss that train.

PAINTING: Paris Metro by Chronis Botsoglou.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Growing up, words and ideas never came easy to me. I found meaning-making difficult, and often I missed the point of reading. It wasn’t until I discovered music that the melody of language helped me to make connections I had missed as a child. Music became poetry, then prose, and I haven’t been able to stop writing since. Writing is always seeking and discovering the world around us.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Matthew Gilbert is a co-founder and poetry editor of Black Moon Magazine. He reads for Orison Books and serves as a poetry editor at Great Lakes Review. He also edits the newsletter for Poetry Society of Tennessee—Northeast Chapter. He enjoys writing that crackles and burns with emotion, works that push the boundaries between writing and lived experience—works where language and form celebrate the reader. His work appears in Delta Poetry Review, Eunoia Review, Jimsonweed, Mildred Haun Review, and Across the Margin, among others, and is forthcoming in The Southern Poetry Anthology Vol IX: Virginia. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Retirement Days
by Alan Walowitz

I am still waiting for a train that never comes.
I settle in at the station,
my place reserved between
all that’s forgotten
and what I’m sure will never occur.
You can call me has-been, used-to-be,
anything at all, so long as
only gets announced
in that garbled, godlike voice,
no one can understand
or let me tell it to myself,
sotto voce, entre trains,
with the camera panning shyly away
so as not to make a fool of me
even in the dailies.

Oh, God, don’t make me do another take:
the strutting and the carrying on,
the waiting for goodbye at the station
preceded by the hero’s angst
as he battles to select just the right tie
and a shirt that hardly wrinkles.
Didn’t you say fashion was a way
to make us nearer to the gods?
And for God’s sake won’t he ever
tell me what this waiting means,
and try to make my life work without?
And while he’s at it,
maybe the train could pass
every now and again, and I’ll swear
to all that’s holy
I’ll never try to get on.

PAINTING: Train in Evening by Paul Delvaux (1957).

Walowitz jpg 2

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I treasure my copy of Source, a little magazine published in 1977 or so. In the Table of Contents is a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and another by Alan Walowitz. It was one of my first publications and I’m sure it made no impression at all on the great Ferlinghetti. The photo of me (below) is from that same time. I’m much greyer and older, but I’m still waiting.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alan Walowitz is a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual. His chapbook, Exactly Like Love, comes from Osedax Press. The full-length The Story of the Milkman and Other Poems is available from Truth Serum Press. Most recently, from Arroyo Seco Press, is the chapbook In the Muddle of the Night, written trans-continentally with poet Betsy Mars.

Paul Kempner
The Trains Must Run on Time Even if the Cars Are Empty
by Howard Richard Debs

I have ridden the New Haven Line
on the Metro-North Railroad
coming in from New Rochelle
with stops along the way
at Pelham, Mt. Vernon East,
Botanical Garden, Tremont,
Melrose, Harlem
to end the run at
Grand Central Station
cathedral of train terminals
where people from all
these and other places
stream together in what
seem constant waves
filling the cavernous halls
to fulsome measure
for now, not so.
He works the Hudson Line,
starts at Poughkeepsie,
I’ve been there too, on
the way to Hyde Park
up the river to dine at
The Culinary Institute
of America, wondering
why the Hudson Line
didn’t extend that far;
it follows the river,
where the Sloop
Clearwater sails,
the organization emblem
of Pete Seeger’s dream;
soon they will restream
their Music Festival,
for now the virtual Great
Hudson River Revival
an annual call to
environmental action,
for now without echoes
on the river’s banks.
The train goes through
Beacon, Peekskill, Dobbs Ferry,
Yonkers, Riverdale, Yankees,
few tickets punched for that stop,
for now. He tells of
passengers who no longer
ride, the nonagenarian lawyer
who went into work in Manhattan
almost every day, and took the
last train going home. He’d
hold her bags and help her
down the platform. She
doesn’t travel into the city
for now, but he has her
number and they text each other—
for now.

PHOTO: Pictured is Paul Kempner, who has worked 22 years as a conductor for the Metro-North Railroad in New York. Photo by Stephen Wilkes, used with permission

Included quote from article by Marilyn Milloy, reprinted with permission, AARP The Magazine, Copyright 2020 AARP.  All rights reserved. Metro-North Railroad route map, used with permission

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The theme for this series is Prime Movers, focusing, rightly so, on the people who keep things going in these harrowing times, people like Paul Kempner. But infrastructure, institutions, organizations, also have a major role as prime movers in a real sense too. The Metro-North Railroad is one such entity. For information about an important way those who may wish to do so can help others during the pandemic and receive a special gift for such help go to TrainsMustRun and thank you for that.


Howard Richard Debs is a recipient of the 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Award. His essays, fiction, and poetry appear internationally in numerous publications. His photography is featured in select publications, including in Rattle online as “Ekphrastic Challenge” artist and guest editor. His book Gallery: A Collection of Pictures and Words (Scarlet Leaf Publishing), is the recipient of a 2017 Best Book Award and 2018 Book Excellence Award. His new chapbook Political, ( will be released in October 2020. He is co-editor of New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust, forthcoming in 2021 from Vallentine Mitchell of London, publisher of the first English language edition of the diary of Anne Frank. He is listed in the Poets & Writers Directory.

The good things
by Oormila Vijayakrishnan Prahlad

She works at Roseville station—
a positive presence on the platform,
well turned out in her neatly pressed
New South Wales railway staff uniform,
with always a kind word and a helping hand
for the older folks, and young preschoolers
dangling on their parents’ arms.

She likes ethnic jewelry. I’ve seen her
wear metal earrings—a touch
of whimsy to her outfit. And this January,
at the risk of looking completely weird,
I got her a set of peacock motif earrings,
which I bought from an artisan
on my holiday in India.

I wished her a Happy 2020. I told her
that it’s my fifth year living in Roseville—
that the friendliness of locals like her went
a long way in making newcomers like me
feel welcome and at home.

I will never forget the surprise in
her blue irises—how her eyes grew
bloodshot. And I remember how the tears
just wouldn’t stop, how we shook hands
warmly, how overcome we both were
with emotion, in that moment.

Soon afterwards, the pandemic came
in full force. Throughout the lockdown
I’ve seen her hard at work, masked and gloved,
managing the station—white flags,
and whistles in hand, eyes always crimped
in smiles behind her mask.

Today she was on the platform, chatting
with the older folks lugging shopping,
laboring up the stairs. She told them
not to worry. Despite the pandemic
the upgrade would come—the lifts
and accessible toilets. The good things
were coming to Roseville. And today I saw
those earrings dangling from her lobes—
the silver silhouette of an Indian peacock
glinting in the sun.

PHOTO: 2020 gift box by Sasha Soloshenko91, used by permission.

Roseville-NSW-2069-Australia-2 (1)1NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I am a recent immigrant to Australia. One of the kindest people I have met in my community is a middle-aged train staff member who works on the North Shore train line. I remember how happy and at ease I felt when she greeted me with a warm hello at the local station, the first time I took the train. This poem is for that train staff member, whom I see every day, and who continues to work tirelessly during these uncertain times.


Oormila Vijayakrishnan Prahlad is an artist, poet, and pianist of Indian heritage. She was raised in the Middle East. She started writing poetry from the age of seven. In 1990, during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, she was a war refugee in Operation Desert Storm. She holds a Masters in English, and is a member of The North Shore Poetry Project. Her recent works have been published in Neologism Poetry, The Ekphrastic Review, Nigerian Voices Anthology, Poetica Review, and several other print and online international literary journals and anthologies. Her poem “Mizpah,” about a mother who hopes for the return of her son who was taken as a prisoner of war, was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Glass House Poetry Awards 2020. She is the co-editor of the Australian literary journal Authora Australis. She regularly performs her poetry and exhibits her art at shows in Sydney.

licensed sue smith
by Rachel Hawk

In August 1965, my friend Barbara and I drove out of Ohio and headed to San Francisco. Unlike our friends, we weren’t ready to get married, buy houses, and have kids. And thought we might never be. We had other dreams and imagined livelier, more varied lives in a beautiful city by the ocean. Because we were nurses, finding work would be easy. Zigzagging across the country, we stopped whenever something caught our fancy. The Golden Spike National Historic Site did just that.

In 1869, two teams of men completed the building of this country’s first transcontinental railroad, laboring toward each other from Iowa and California. For 1,912 miles they  burrowed tunnels, built bridges, and laid down track. It was a massive, arduous, dangerous undertaking. Finally, on May 10th at Promontory Point, Utah Territory, the men hammered a commemorative gold spike into the last, connecting rail, joining east to west. Surrounded by tents, saloons, and boarding houses, the crowd of dignitaries, railroad workers and owners brandished their whiskey bottles, posed for pictures, and cheered. The dangers of crossing multiple raging rivers, deserts, and mountain ranges in horse-drawn wagons had been conquered, making it possible for thousands to travel safely. It had been considered an impossible dream.

When Barbara and I visited, everything — trains, buildings, even the tracks themselves — were gone. As true of many landmarks, there was only a descriptive sign; nothing remained but the story. It was enough. Standing in the wind of that vast beautiful high-desert plain, the excitement of a great endeavor caught us. This was a monument not only to hard work and accomplishment, but also to dreams — and we had our own.

PHOTOGRAPH: National Park Service sign for the Golden Spike National Historic Site, Promontory Summit, Utah, by Sue Smith, used by permission.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Between 1863 and 1869, as many as 20,000 Chinese workers helped build the treacherous western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad that began in Sacramento, California. When not enough white men signed up, the railroad began hiring Chinese men for the backbreaking labor. Chinese workers blasted tunnels through mountains, cut through dense forests, filled deep ravines, constructed long trestles, and built enormous retaining walls. Chinese workers were paid 30-50% less than their white counterparts and were given the most dangerous work. As they approached the meeting point with the Union Pacific at Promontory Summit, Utah, thousands of Chinese workers laid down 10 miles of track in less than 24 hours. Progress came at great cost: Chinese civic organizations retrieved an estimated 1,200 bodies along the route and sent them to China for burial. The transcontinental railroad’s completion allowed travelers to journey across the country in a week — a trip that had previously taken more than a month. Politicians pointed to the country’s great achievement, failing to mention the foreign-born workers who had made it possible.

Source: “Remember the Chinese immigrants who built America’s first transcontinental railroad” by Gordon H. Chang, professor of history, Stanford University, Los Angeles Times, May 10, 2019.

PHOTO: Chinese workers toil in a treacherous stretch of the Transcontinental Railroad in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, late 1860s. (Source: National Park Service.)

PHOTO: Ceremony on May 10, 1969 for installing the golden spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, representing the completion of the First U.S. Transcontinental Railroad. At center left, Samuel S. Montague, Central Pacific Railroad, shakes hands with Grenville M. Dodge, Union Pacific Railroad (center right). They are surrounded by men who built the railway — but Chinese workers are noticeably absent. Many of the laborers who worked their way west on the Union Pacific Railroad were Irish immigrants — about 3,000 in all, many of whom were veterans of the Union Army in the Civil War. They, too, faced dangerous working conditions and hardships. Photo: Andrew J. Russell, Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, used by permission.)

PHOTO: In 2014, on the 145th anniversary of the first transcontinental railroad’s completion at Promontory Summit, Utah, a group of Asian-Americans, including descendants of Chinese railroad workers, recreate the iconic photo taken without their ancestors in 1869. Photo (c) Corky Lee, All Rights Reserved. 

PHOTO: Plaque at Promontory Summit, Utah, placed in 1969 to commemorate the centennial of the U.S. Transcontinental Railroad and to honor “the Chinese workers of the Central Pacific Railroad whose indomitable courage made it possible.”

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Today, at the Golden Spike National Historic Site, visitors can see full-sized exact replicas of the original (and colorful!) Victorian-era locomotives. According to the National Park Service website, the site now features a visitors’ center as well as driving tours, hiking trails, and re-enactments of driving the Last Spike.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Hawk facilitates a weekly writers’ forum. Her personal essays explore both the interior world of the narrator and the nuances within relationships. Her current work utilizes elements of memoir in narrative form.

by Neil Creighton

The Indian Pacific from Perth
has arrived on Platform 2.

We poured from the train.
The platform surged with people.
Baggage handlers scurried around.
Grey day. Spiteful rain. Cold wind.

Better check on your dog, son.

Sammy was in a dog-cage in the baggage car.
He was eight. I was sixteen.
His puppy self had lain in my arms.
Together we paddled the glittering lake,
he in the front, alert, mouth open, excited.
He loped alongside my bicycle.
He bounded comically through high grass.
He lay at my feet in the evening.
He was my brother and my friend.

There’s a dog loose on the tracks.

I barely heard that announcement
as I wandered down to the baggage car.
I’d checked on him on each stop.
Now I’d take him to our new home.

I’ve come for my dog.

Jeez, mate, sorry, he’s gone,
We tried to get him out of his cage.
He held back and slipped his collar
and he bolted.

I ran through the crowd, searching the tracks,
calling and whistling again and again.
No dog loped up happily to lick my hand.

Finally I stopped.
He was gone,
3,400 kilometres from his home,
running in a strange city
full of noise and trams and cars and trains,
increasingly desperate, hungry, alone.

The day was cloudy, cold and wet.
I reached for my sunglasses
To hide my grief, though tears flowed freely.

Sammy, my dear friend,
don’t run too far.
Find someone to take you in.
Let them love you like I do.

In a sad huddle, my family waited.
I walked past them towards the platform steps.
They seemed so very far away.

IMAGE: “Boy with a Dog” by Pablo Picasso (1905).

Creighton for Sammy

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I have always loved dogs, and although my father was in the Royal Australian Air Force and we led a gypsy life, criss-crossing the Australian continent, my dog always came with us. My poem recounts what happened when we travelled from Perth to Melbourne one cold, wet day.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: My dogs, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Miss Eliza Bennet (Darcy and Lizzie).

Neil Creighton Bio Photo1

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Neil Creighton is an Australian poet whose work as a teacher of English and Drama brought him into close contact with thousands of young lives, most happy and triumphant but too many tragically filled with neglect. It made him intensely aware of how opportunity is so unequally proportioned and his work often reflects strong interest in social justice. His recent publications include Poetry Quarterly, Autumn Sky Daily, Praxis mag online,  Rat’s Ass Review, and Verse-Virtual, where he is a contributing editor. He blogs at

Adele Kenny, Age 9
The Trains
by Adele Kenny

We felt them first. Fingers pressed to the rails,
     a dull rumble filled our hands and hummed into
our arms before the cone of light, the great clatter

of metal against metal. Trestled high, above the
     bridge on Grand Avenue, we knew those tracks
went on forever, between trees that lined the ties

like stations of the cross. The hill was forbidden but
     holy, thick with clover, ripe with berries in spring.
The year I was nine, an April blizzard swept the

sky and we went to the trains in the dark. The wires
     strummed into sparks, the rails were a dazzle of
shadows. Our faces – ghosts of our selves – reflected

in every train car window, lines of breath etched in
     passing glass. Above us, chimney smoke hung like
smears of candle grease among the clouds.

We were grubby and poor, but we believed. We said
     our prayers, ate fish on Fridays, and never rode
those trains. We could only kneel in something like

wonder, something like praise, and wait for the
     tracks’ reverent shudder. The memory is a gauze
engine that time blows through and keeps me small.

SOURCE: Previously Published in What Matters (Welcome Rain Publishers, 2011).

PHOTOGRAPH: Adele Kenny, age nine,  Rahway, New Jersey (Photo by William Kenny). In the poem, the author mentions the April she was nine—that’s the same April this picture was taken.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Virginia Woolf called childhood “a great cathedral space.” “The Trains” is a poem about a “cathedral time” that continues to inform my present.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Adele Kenny’s poems, reviews, and articles have been published in journals worldwide, and her poems have appeared in books and anthologies published by Crown, Tuttle, Shambhala, and McGraw-Hill. She is the recipient of various awards, including two poetry fellowships from the New Jersey State Arts Council and Kean University’s Distinguished Alumni Award. A former creative writing professor, she is founding director of the Carriage House Poetry Series and poetry editor of Tiferet Journal. She has read in the US, England, Ireland, and France, and has twice been a featured reader at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. Visit her at and

I am Seven on the Train from One World to Another
                                                                                          — 1961
by Gabrielle Daniels

I could not sit still long in coach
—the cheapest seats—after I had
read and reread the few books brought
for a moment’s preoccupation
I wanted to go up and down the aisle
on any pretext,
searching for any other kids
searching for where the brakemen went
finding the cafe or even the bar
close enough to just look
Only to the bathroom where
I could not really rest. Or play,
because Mamma always
brought me fro and to our seats
under the eyes of the conductor
if I strayed too long and too far
even the picture windows
with clacking scenes
of Texas and Arizona
could not restrain me
no matter how many rows of cropland sped by
no matter how slowly we crept by
the occasional train that had jumped its track
spilling its guts from every wrecked freight car
eliciting oohs and ahhs
even from the grownups

It seemed other travelers boarded and disembarked
except for us, but we were not alone
Like them, we were on a longer journey,
from what had been home
and it could have been to the moon
I cannot recall the stops where
Mr. Robinson helped me down,
not the conductor,
with his strong, older arms
and his gray-flecked mustache
his kind teeth edged with gold
like an invitation
from the high steps of the carriage
and we stretched our legs, drank hot sodas,
ignored the drinking fountain,
ate chocolate bars, and waited
for what? Another set of passenger cars,
or another locomotive running in daylight
or with a bloody nose, I didn’t know
I was too young to know
these things yet, except that
we were on our way
even standing still.

Behind us,
swallowed up by hours and miles,
there was always color
Color in the divided want ads
and in the neighborhoods.
Color on the placard in the shop windows.
Until I dreamed in color:
I lathered my face in white suds
and paid the cashier
so that I could see The Three Stooges
with Snow White
the sound of the projector clack drowned
by the overture
and as the white foam melted
revealing my brown face
by the light of the screen
someone towered over me
asking for my ticket, and I awoke
No matter that
my mother’s silver did not bend
and red faces on Canal Street
yelling over Ruby were reduced to black
and white footage on Huntley and Brinkley.

For days, my grandfather kept the watch,
waiting for us to come home, no matter
how many times my grandmother reminded him
that we had gone. For him, his ribs—his daughter
and granddaughter—had gone missing.
Between three and five, he knew,
Mr. Tejeau ferried me and Meemsy and
and Kitty Kat from upstairs
home from Catholic school, and then Mamma
from the Freret Street bus, reception for a Jewish doctor,
learning to type faster and faster—clack, clack.
It was too much for him
to go to the station,
only my grandmother was there to send us off,
perhaps this is why he could not believe it,
could not trust her word.
I see her full figure under her hat not looking
in the window to see me wave
for the last time, pigtailed and barretted,
four-eyed with the new glasses my stepfather said
I needed to see clearly at a distance,
not pretty any more.
I see her not looking,
but going straight ahead
like the rails but behind
through the waiting room and
into the street where
I could not see

And I became like prattle,
daring a whipping under
my mother’s narrowed eyes
her good dress wrinkling by the second
when nothing else filled the hours
not even coloring books or napping
I was singing my song with no melody
to the clack; it did not relieve the heat
but added to the boredom
and the sleepiness and the stiffness
We had air conditioning
that came and went like the sandwich vendors
and the news “boys” that sold comic books
like Peanuts and Dennis the Menace
and ham and cheese and potato chips
but they could not silence me for long

I was going to California
where Disneyland was only a block away
from San Francisco
where everything, everywhere was new
And I wanted bacon and eggs and toast
in the dining car
like Mamma and Mr. Robinson
because corn flakes and Tang were the food
of another time, sitting on a drawer
with a torn phonebook on top
to come up to the kitchen table
In the dining car, the vinyl cushions
made me grown on this journey
I could reach for the salt and pepper
I could touch the napkins
I could eat with more than a spoon

And when we finally reached gold,
the houses tilted close together
on what I learned were forty-four hills
I thought they would smash into each other
like dominoes when the Big One finally hit
but they held on like my mother’s tightening hand
in mine, surrounded by all those Robinsons
my stepfather’s uncles and aunts and cousins
who had come and stayed because of the War
and had made something of themselves
in The Fillmore
and had fetched us up
with their smiles and in their good clothes
and the occasional Cadillac

Then I was shy, all words
full inside me, like Stephen
small and fluttery in Mamma’s womb,
because there were so many smiles
to meet and so many wet kisses to get
from people I didn’t know yet
and when we drove through Yerba Buena
there was sky at the end of the tunnel,
and The City spread before us, glorious at first sight
shimmering in late summer afternoon
brighter than the blue bay water kissed
by suicides, but when I turned
on my knees to see
where Treasure Island might be,
there were no pirates or evidence
of three-masted galleys but lanes
of cars behind us, people
riding in the same direction

I was introduced to Aunt Eva’s clawfoot tub
that night in the house on Broderick Street
and given a towel and a washcloth
and lots of time to explore what was new,
while all the grownups in the living room
smoked and talked and called out for more ice
clicking in their drinks before dinner and
I closed the door;
the mysteries of her medicine cabinet
and pink vanity chair with thin, gold metal scrolls
could wait one more day
Instead, there was Mr. Robinson’s manly treasures
in his crocodile travel case sitting on top of the toilet
–Old Spice, a can of Duke, and some
Colgate tooth powder, and brushes
and his watch and his safety razor by Gillette
that had currency everywhere

However, I couldn’t stop moving
still acclimated to the train’s rocking and
dips and jerks and starts, I could break
something in my admiration, and I wanted
no evidence of wrongdoing
so early with Aunt Eva
I couldn’t walk straight
for a day or so without
holding onto a wall,
I was clumsy in a house
that would not fall over,
roaming in one place
When my new Daddy arrived
and I was banished to the guest bedroom
that night, the world heaved and shuddered
laboring all night in the rain to crack open the earth,
and I dreamed of telephone receivers
that smoked blue mist when they rang
and no one was there for me to answer

Between dreaming and shaking
I would wake over and over
up and down the hall I would go to one door
and then another, from bedroom to
bedroom, but no one would wake
from my soft rapping
to comfort me amid the trembling,
and when I gave up
and crept back to that big empty bed
the blankets and sheets rippling like
troubled waves
the house still rolled like a passenger coach
but I was on my own with my own baggage
and nothing settled down until light,
a mournful, foggy day with no sun
and Mamma didn’t believe my story
until the evening news

That journey was ahead of me,
but all Mamma talked of the trip
it seemed, after taking off her high heels
was how I crushed her sunglasses
that slid over after much shifting
and dropped into my seat. Years later,
I think it wasn’t about being
pretty, but scared
that she wasn’t ready to face
that bright Sunday afternoon
and the glasses would have allowed her
to hide in the way that I could not with mine
because the moment had finally come
and she was compelled to see
everything that we came and hoped for
and everything we would miss

                              — March 11, 2015

© Gabrielle Daniels

PHOTOGRAPH: The author with her friends in the fall of 1959, New Orleans, Louisiana.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is only the second I’ve written in several decades, and about the singular event of my childhood. One could call it an escape: a seven-year-old African American girl and her mother, lately remarried, traveling for three days and two nights on a train, the Sunset Limited, which had already brought thousands of Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi blacks to California since the early 1940s. For me, the relocation was about embracing the new, the different (like comic books), and saying goodbye to the old life.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gabrielle Daniels was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Gabrielle began as a poet before switching to fiction writing. Her poetry was featured in This Bridge Called My Back, a classic anthology by feminists of color, which is now in its fourth edition. Gabrielle is a 1999 graduate of the University of California, Irvine’s Creative Writing Workshop. She has been a resident at Yaddo, and her work has appeared in magazines like Sable and The Kenyon Review. Gabrielle was a recipient of a Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation Grant in 2004. She was the 2005-2006 Carl Djerassi Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, University of Wisconsin. She currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin, but wants to go home to the Bay Area.

Sleeping by the Tracks
     Carpinteria, California
by Tamara Madison

The sea casts its song
To the eucalyptus
Tree shadows move
In the night window
A frog chorus sings
In the rank river mouth

The train rushes through
Like a tidal wave
Throws its warning blare
Before the shudder cleaves
The campers’ sleep
And night flows back in

The voices of the surf
Echo again in the trees
We lay ourselves
Before all greater forces
And step onto the raft of sleep.

PHOTOGRAPH: “Train Tracks” (Carpinteria, California) by Kyle Hanson. Prints available at


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tamara Madison teaches English and French at a public high school in Los Angeles. Raised on a citrus farm in the California desert, Tamara’s life has taken her many places, including Europe and the former Soviet Union, where she spent fifteen months in the 1970s. A swimmer and dog lover, Tamara says, “All I ever wanted to do with my life was write, and I mostly write poetry because it suits my lifestyle. I like the way one can say so much in the economical space of a poem.”