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I have always lived within the sound
of the Pennsylvania Railroad
which moans, then sings, and rides me at night
to the sound of my father’s voice,
trembling at the trains he knew and those
he rode in childhood and growing and passing.
The ones to meet his father in Cape May, or
to carry a gift to my mother in New Mexico, or
to come and lift my brother and newborn me in California.
He’d given up the car for good in the Sonoran Desert
simply at the urging of a billboard showing cool happy people
in a sleek frosty-looking Santa Fe car: “Next Time, Take the Train.”
Sometimes, Santa Fe, Super Chief, and Dad across America just for the hell of it.
He’d worked hard-sweat labor
in a roundhouse repair shop
summers in college although he didn’t need a dime.
Orphaned, he lived financially easy
emotionally hard, eased by the trains.
He knew the diesel roads, the steam numbers, even old 97
and 143, the FFV serving the first families of Virginia.
His voice would catch
at the sighing steam of the Pittsburgher
leaving for New York
or telling my fourteen-year-old self
how to change trains in Chicago
and catch the Panama Limited to New Orleans
and to order the gravied grits in the dining car.
My father and I coupled to New York’s Pennsylvania Station
Pennsylvania side, first as a family then just us.
But I had to pass to my brother
and miss traveling to Paris
to ride the Train à Grande Vitesse
to Nice. My brother said it cost him ten years
which must have transubstantiated to my dad’s delighted grin.
My father did many fine things for me:
taught me driving-wheel morals, beautiful language,
and how to build a flagman’s sense for trouble
and a lineman’s backbone for hard times.
But I must admit that on hearing the keening
of a Pensy mainline highball,
as we packed Dad into the final black carriage,
I found myself humming “Hobo Bill’s Last Ride.”
Copyright 2021 Jay Carson
Pennsylvania Railroad, c. 1950s. (source: GreenFrog Videos)