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Mary Kennan Herbert:

Three Poems

Train Ride to Springfield

Leave things behind.
Watch the present slide by into somebody's past.
View carcasses of cars and retired tires, graffiti-scarred walls,
quickly gone. The ailanthus tree arrives with splashes of green
seen faster and faster along the edge of a silver river.
Soon you will see scaup skim whitecaps heading to the sea,
and observe exemplars of goosey-loosey housekeeping on the bays:
Canadian geese, a mated pair swim with six goslings
in their family flotilla are part of a brief glimpse of dancing waters
lapping at the trackside marina where clean white bellies of boats
await tender kisses in drydock. Take notes.
Write a poem.
Wow, there goes Stamford
perched on the slope of Western Civilization, a quick familiar glance
includes duly noted cormorants
sunning on dead limbs protruding from a slough not far from a parking lot
where rows of oil stained cars remind me of the duckweed decorated tide
hurrying out to touch our cindered shores.
Beyond each cove new encounters await.
A pristine sailboat heads down river away from my life
tiptoes past a scow bearing dredged dread or redemption for riverine mud
or sludge hereafter,
depending on a flyfisher's dreams
or the shad rebellion. The water gleams.
I have a waterside seat:
it's neat, I always make sure to sit on the right side
so I can watch Westport perched on the edge of the estuary
not far from where bird watchers crane their necks
to view laughing gulls, rose-breasted grosbeaks,
the aforementioned geese or lucky ducks
having sex. Across
from a presidential mansion on a hill,
suburbs creep down to the water's edge
lawns freshly mown dip down to the freshet streams.
Grass, alas, too sweet for these travelers, this train,
my train with power people aboard,
talk into cell phones, always reassuring voicemail wherever
that rewrites will swiftly arrive via email from jail
(we passed it), and my disk will talk with your disk.
Of course she's blonde in the seat ahead, with phone and water-
blue blazer, she's ready for fun,
while the guy behind me leaks news about health plans
gleaned from a seminar in Baltimore
he recently attended by train,
one hopes on budget and free of pain. Then,
as promised, Hartford looms
to add drama to our moving room.
Can you imagine some mysterious music added now to
our journey, echoing from these worn Connecticut towns sun-dappled
and shadowy from Jonathan Edwards's
troubled dreams tumbling across the Connecticut River toward us,
bearing news of yesterday's riparian
storms, alarums from men on horseback
wearing wind-blown capes, threats from Boston.
Yesterday a train wreck in Germany killed maybe 100 happy souls,
the worst railroad accident since 1945 when a tank train
(winners) collided with one loaded with German P.O.W.s (losers),
no more goose-steps for those guys.
Train wrecks are not frequent. What gets you
is your own imagination as this train carefully skirts a pond
where I spot yet another husband and wife team of Canadian geese
facing into the wind,
this time with three teen-agers to protect, gawky in their fuzz
and feathers. The hills of Massachusetts creep closer and closer,
and the train waddles slowly past workmen repairing tracks,
doing mysterious tasks to make our world better,
as we chug closer to the hills, hoping to hear the sounds of thrushes singing,
pulling farther and farther away
from train wrecks, war, dead limbs, and anything else that might
threaten a neatly pressed skirt
or the weary fella from Baltimore
dreaming of insurance costs, funny money, and medical tests
better than the rest. He snores. Our train moves on,
or so it seems.

Flying Phobia

My imagination entertains
endings, a final curtain
in an airy disaster,
eerie airs above the ground.
My beloved white phantom stallion
plunging Earthward
with torn wings -
final moments. Imagine,
watch while the kindly horse doctor
puts bullet to brain.
My beloved Lippizzaner of love
must be put down.
A release from pain, free at last,
as the nose, velvet nose, kisses
the ground.
The muzzle rakes the ground,
the soft nostrils,
all this imagery in a jumble,
a pile-up in the aerie.

I just cannot fly any more,
my father said. He is dead.
Not from a crash.
It was just Mr. Death who
came and got him
while kith and kin milled around
in a holding pattern,
weeping and wondering.
But he was alive, very alive
earlier in my story:
The big boss offered to send me
to Europe, he told me, actually
smiling, a business trip -
really a boondoggle though.
The head honcho said take your time,
see the sights.
My father sighed. He told me,
I couldn't go,
I just couldn't get on
the fucking plane.
Pain. His vials of pills
were all lined up in a row
next to well-thumbed copies of
He was well read, but defeated.
Some bad flights. Bad nights.

It's just clear-air turbulence,
the stewardess told me.
of neurotic poetesses who ask about
turbulence, who cannot envision
floating on air,
who probably cannot soar like an eagle
saying baby, oh baby, when they come,
but see or feel only the thought
of plunging Earthward
like a stone, a horse, a dream,
shattering, or suddenly -
Splat! Like a cartoon.
Flight attendants now:
there's no "ess" tacked on any more.
S is for snacks, for Sigmund,
for the saints, who are supposed
to hold up a 757. Easily.
Try to think soothing thoughts,
a place you would like to be
that's what an anesthesiologist
once whispered to me
before we counted to ten.
Some people have amazing and
delightful dreams when
they're out cold, he told me. I cried,
and then tried: I imagined
the sound of stillness,
lapping water reflecting a clear sky,
no plane in sight, no messages.


what else
might be appealing to you?

On this millennial buffet
we can offer subliminal shards,
couplets, sound bites,
short takes, outtakes.
a 500-word-theme,
quick sketches,
one roll of film,
one diskette in the dust.
Or a rhyme imbedded
in out-of-date software.
State-of-the-art epithets are here
to reward you
for getting
under our skin.
What will you regard as beautiful,
perfect as a wheel,
an Arab stallion,
a gold coin
the eye of God,
the face of a goddess.
In two thousand years
you will dig up the soiled coin
but not our eyes,
not the tears of goddesses.
What can we share then?
Will the voice of the thrush in the last forest suffice,
or sculpted archaic smiles,
a picture of us?
perhaps archival poems
will endure.
Look: a song, a ditty, an epic,
epigrams witty,
The carcass of a movie star,
a racy car,
the jawbone of an ass
and a door ajar
to the ruin
of a temple
in honor of
If you find these things agreeable,
we are amenable.
whatever may pass muster or mustard,
and earn your professional respect,
we think
will earn our seal of approval too.
This seal itself,
a poem of hammered metal, software.
What do you think?
Will it last,
holding fast,
in your imagination and mine?
Is our gold standard
the thing to treasure,
in our meeting of the minds?
What remains
after all those sunsets,
what lingers
in your distant dark?
pixel points of light,
the ultimate artist's touch?

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