Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DAY COACH, by MALCOLM COWLEY



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DAY COACH, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Tickets please
Last Line: He stumbled off with his burden of stars and hills.
Subject(s): Railroads; Stations Of The Cross; Tourists; Travel; Railways; Trains; Journeys; Trips


I

TICKETS PLEASE
said the conductor and Benjamin settled back
into his seat and by this action wrapped
the overcoat of solitude around him.

Strangers brushed past
down the aisle, soiling only
the fringes of this mantle;

his eyes had turned
to watch the hills that so proceeded like awkward
vast dancers across the curtain of his eyes
to watch the moving
mist of his breath as it crept along the pane.

II

He says to himself
— it is the placing
of the foot upon the step deposited by the porter
it is the leisurely
procession with baggage up a red-plush aisle
out of such gestures there grows
the act of travel.
Johnstown, Pittsburgh: these cities
escape the grasp of the hand
these cities are pimpled on hills
Manhattan is corseted briefly about with waters.

You climb into a train, give a tip, open a paper, light a cigar, and the
landscape
jerks unevenly past.
Your knees straighten
automatically at Pittsburgh; a porter takes the luggage, saying rapidly
— this way to a taxi, Boss
this way to a taxi.

The hills and fields of Pennsylvania quiver
behind you vaguely, the landscape of a dream.

III

As the other train passed he looked through the plate glass of the dining car
— the other — and saw a fork suspended in the air and before it had
finished its journey he was peering into a smoking car with a silver haze and
four men playing cards over a suitcase clamped to their knees. A world, a
veritable world, as seen beneath the microscope. A world in an envelope sealed
with the red tail light that proceeded gravely past him up the track. A world
sealed out of his world and living for thirty-five seconds of his life.

IV

This bell which suddenly greets us at a crossing
and dies as suddenly; somewhere this bell
rings on for other trains.

A girl stands waving to us in a doorway
down a hillside children run to meet us
a man fishes in a muddy river;

they disappear. Somewhere the handkerchief
still waves against the train; children still play
and I, if I descended from the train
would live eternally in these brief towns
these momentary towns which overhang
perilously, a momentary river.

V

The lights of the train now move
transversely across the water
across the water strides
the shadow of the engineer;
the square barred windows move across the water
as if they marked a prison that exists
never between four walls, but only moves
continually across a world of waters.

VI

His head drooped lower gradually; he dreamed
the locomotive boldly had deserted
the formidable assurance of steel rails;
it turned and leaped
like a beast hunted over the wooded slope
(and all the time the engineer leaning out of his cab and saying
— the four fourteen will be on time at Youngstown
the four fourteen will be on time WON'T it, Bill?).

His head drooped in a comfortable dream.

VII

Time is marked not by hours but by cities; we are one station before Altoona,
one station beyond Altoona; CRESSON change cars for Luckett, Munster and all
points on the line that runs tortuously back into a boyhood, with the burden of

a day dropping like ripe fruit at every revolution of the driving wheel, with a

year lost between each of the rickety stations: Beulah Road, Ebensburg, Nant-y-
glo; gather your luggage and move it towards the door. BIG BEND.

VIII

O voyagers, with you
I have moved like a firefly over the face of the waters
with you I was spit
like a cherry seed from the puckered lips of the tunnel:
come
let us join our hands
dance
ring around the rosy, farmer in the dell
round and round this clucking locomotive. Come!
(From red cabooses huddled in the yards
from engine cabs and roundhouses will stream
these others silently to join us.)
Come!

IX

Out of the group at the station no single form
detached itself to meet him.
The circle of their backs was a wall against him.

Oblongs of light reflected from the train
moved along the mountainside and vanished.

He buttoned his coat and stumbled into the darkness,
the darkness proceeded along with him until
he picked it up and wrapped it round his shoulders:

bending his shoulders under the weight of the darkness
he stumbled off with his burden of stars and hills.





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