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Jay Carson: Railroad Bill

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)

4 comments on “Jay Carson: Railroad Bill

  1. Joan Bauer
    June 23, 2021

    Wow! What an open-hearted and beautifully crafted poem–with so many layers. I especially love those first four lines. They really invite us in…Bravo, Jay!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbara Huntington
    June 22, 2021

    Love it. My grandfather I never met did telegraphy and was a stationmaster in New Mexico

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Judith Brice
    June 21, 2021

    This was a terrific poem. Fulll of sound and image and description of your father!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rose Mary Boehm
    June 20, 2021

    Enjoyed that tremendously. LOVE trains from early childhood onward.

    “which moans, then sings, and rides me at night

    to the sound of my father’s voice,”

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on June 20, 2021 by in Poetry and tagged , , , , .

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