A Poem by Tony Hoagland

“Two Trains”

Then there was that song called “Two Trains Running,”

A Mississippi blues they play on late-night radio,

that program after midnight called FM in the AM,

–well, I always thought it was about trains.

Then somebody told me it was about what a man and woman do

under the covers of their bed, moving back and forth

like slow pistons in a shiny black locomotive,

the rods and valves trying to stay coordinated

long enough that they will “get to the station”

at the same time. And one of the trains

goes out of sight into the mountain tunnel,

but when they break back into the light

the other train has somehow pulled ahead,

the two trains running like that, side by side,

first one and then the other, with the fierce white

bursts of smoke puffing from their stacks,

into a sky so sharp and blue you want to die.

So then for a long time I thought the song was about sex.

But then Mack told me that all train songs

are really about Jesus, about how the second train

is shadowing the first, so He walks in your footsteps

and He watches you from behind, He is running with you,

He is your brakeman and your engineer,

your coolant and your coal,

and He will catch you when you fall,

and when you stall He will push you through

the darkest mountain valley, up the steepest hill,

and the rough chuff chuff of his fingers on the washboard

and the harmonica woo woo is the long soul cry by which He

pulls you through the bloody tunnel of the world.

So then I thought the two trains song was a gospel song.

Then I quit my job in Santa Fe and Sharon drove

her spike heel through my heart

and I got twelve years older and Dean moved away,

and now I think the song might be about good-byes–

because we are not even in the same time zone,

or moving at the same speed, or perhaps even

headed toward the same destination–

forgodsakes, we are not even trains!

What grief it is to love some people like your own

blood, and then to see them simply disappear;

to feel time bearing us away

one boxcar at a time.

And sometimes, sitting in my chair

I can feel the absence stretching out in all directions–

like the deaf, defoliated silence

just after a train has thundered past the platform,

just before the mindless birds begin to chirp again

–and the wildflowers that grow beside the tracks

wobble wildly on their little stems,

then gradually grow still and stand

motherless and vertical in the middle of everything.


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