Wednesday, July 1, 2009

dancing to the clack

photo from One Photo a Day

Take a bit of creosote,

soak a wooden tie,

press snug on a gravel bed

and spike it in the ground.

Do this and do this

‘til all you can see

as far as you look

looks like piano keys,

moving to a pencil point

far down the line.

Now you are ready to

lay a penny down,

or even better yet,

to dance to the sound,

heel first, toe next,

heel now again,

arms spread out,

ready to fly

west to Kentucky

Indiana Illinois,

where you can see forever,

not just around the bend,

where the sun comes up

right out of the land,

where the sun goes down

in the field behind,

where you can hear the whistle

long before you see,

long before you think it’s time

to think of heading back,

long before you run along,

pacing with the clack,

arms pumping

knees rising

cheeks blowing

chuff chuffing,

long before you hook your arm

on that rusty rail,

long before you swing on up,

grinning from the feel

of the run and the journey

and the warm metal bar

crooked in your arm

as you watch from the car

the smooth, flat land that

rolls beneath the wheels.

Just a bit of creosote,

soaked into a tie

pressed snug on a gravel bed,

spiked into the ground,

just one penny flat,

or even better yet,

just one kid dreaming

of dancing to the clack.


  1. I LOVE THIS! What I like best I think is the repetition of the first verse at the end (with the change). The language--the precision with which you (pardon the pun), "nail" the description - the pencil point, the piano keys... this is just brilliant! One of your absolute best.


    P.S. Glad you liked "Mista Funky". He's been hounding me for days.

  2. I forgot to tell you how much I loved the line, "do this and do this". The rhythm of the piece and the sound of the train making its way down the track. Did you just come back from a train trip?


  3. Kat - I am so pleased at your reaction to this! Thanks for the comments on the rhythm and the sound. Writing this was such fun!

    Isn't it interesting that we're reading each others' poetry, both having posted pieces that have us bobbing to the beat?

    In answer to your question, yes, we traveled mostly on the Tube and Metro and also took the Eurostar between London and Paris, so I am still clacking to the wheels!

  4. What a fun poem about trains, which I love. There is something almost magical about a train & the tracks-- I've always felt that.

  5. I love this. It make me think of childhood too. They just don't make whistles like they used to. You really captured that in this poem, and I swear I could hear it.

  6. The poem reads like the clankety-clank of the trains...great pacing and love the intermitent rhyming. It hooked me from the title and carried me through to the very end!

    Boy, this made me homesick for sure. It's the perfect description.

    Do this and do this
    ‘til all you can see
    as far as you look
    looks like piano keys,
    moving to a pencil point
    far down the line.

    Yesterday, I was talking to Vic on the phone - and heard a train in the background and said - "Quick, hold the phone out so I can hear the old C&O go by! LOl...

  7. Wonderful! I almost got up and danced.

    I've always found something haunting in the sound of a train whistle in the middle of the night. Beautiful poem!!!

  8. I absolutely love this one Karen! I can step into that poem and participate from right here in living that experience...I have the shiny new pennys in hand.....I love the sounds...the ones I hear in my head reading your poem...The ones I went to sleep with for years.....Do you remember the Mystic Moods music?
    Great post

  9. This is brilliant Karen.
    The rhythm just carried me along the tracks.
    It has such a wonderful flow to it, like a song that you just have to get up to and dance to your heart's delight.

  10. YES, YES, YES, I hear the sound, anticipate the coming, feel the moving, and want to be as near as it comes and as far away as it goes. Another dance!

  11. Really enjoyed the rhythm, the close-to-rhyming and the piano images.

  12. Loved this. The meter matches, in my mind, the rhythm of the rails. Bravo!

  13. Welcome back (belatedly) Karen! I love this poem--there is such pure joy in it that rolls the verse along.

    I hope you had a wonderful trip!

  14. I grew up by some tracks, on them, along them. Thank you for reminding me of those dreams of jumping on, seeing where I'd end up.

  15. Karen - It really was quite a coincidence to both be posting something that depended on rhythm. Have you heard Gordon Lightfoot's "Railroad Trilogy" song? I think you would like it.


  16. This is a wonderful poem, dear.

    This was written by a master poet.

  17. I love it!! I knew your trip would inspire some fantastic work. Yay, Karen!

    I agree with everyone's comments. The rhythm is fantastic. It's hard to pick out sections I love (it always is), but boy, this part really got me going:

    "Now you are ready to
    lay a penny down
    or even better yet,
    to dance to the sound,
    heel first, toe next,
    heel now again,
    arms spread out
    ready to fly..."

    I love how you begin the first stanza at a slower pace and then start building that rhythm faster and faster like the train.

    And yes, the words are fantastic. Once again, you take me back to childhood, and I love it. The dreaming of the clack at the end is perfect. Well, once again I repeat myself like a broken record when I say...EXCELLENT work!

  18. John - So many wonderful songs about rails and trains. "The City of New Orleans" is about as close to perfection as I can imagine...

    Cat - Thank you! My dad has an old wooden whistle that sounds just like a lonesome train. I love that sound!

    K - I'm glad this made you think of home. You've been there longer than you were here, but we're shaped by our beginnings so much, aren't we?

    We live where the mountains around us echo the sound of train whistles, even though they're more than a mile away. I'm looking at a big ole cardinal in my "Sarviceberry" tree and listening to the sound of that train. Almost heaven...

    Marion - What a delightful thing to say! Thank you for that!

    Linda - I do remember that music (and I'm glad to know someone knows what the pennies are for!) Do they even do that anymore? I'm happy that you could relate to this. Let's thank the C&O or the B&O or whichever RR blessed your childhood!

    Margaret - Thank you! Take off your running shoes and put on your dancing shoes! Or better yet, leave on your runners and pace with the train! ;-D

    Rose Marie - I'm so happy that you could feel the way I felt. One of my blogging friends made a statement that I've been thinking about since I read it. He said that his writing is more about digging down than building up. He was referring to the imaginations of children. I think this one was digging down...Thanks, Joaquin.

    Gordon - Thank you. Something like this is such fun to write because of those very things.

    Gerry - *smiling really big* Thanks!

    Jennifer - Welcome back to you, too! It's good to see you back here, and I appreciate your comments. The trip couldn't have been better! I have to process it a while before I can express it. I hope to see you writing again soon. Don't forget to let me know.

    Rachel - Didn't you love to do that as a kid? Dreams of pure adandon! Going to anywhere else, right? I'm glad this evoked that for yuo.

    Kat - I don't know that, although I often don't know the correct titles for songs, so I'll check those out. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Christopher - I don't think I've ever had such a warm feeling as when I read your comments. Coming from you - well, let's just say, I'm humbled. Thank you.

  19. Julie - Do you know you and Christopher inspired me to write this? He referenced your style as he wrote a real-life poem ("I Was a Timber Faller"), which started me thinking about trying to write something "real", which somehow led to this! I forgot to tell Christopher about that. So to the two of you: a big thanks!

    Thank you for you way too effusive praise. You're a great friend. I know my actual poetics won't win any awards, but this was surely fun to write! I appreciate your comments and support!!

  20. apropos poem for - what some say is - a time that seems to be the echo of the first great depression. Reminds me of the many who dreamed of a better life on down the line and migrated west...

  21. (oh - and welcome back from your trip!) :)

  22. on reading this poem i felt the the rhythm, smelt the diesel and the wind. the penny we have all put down on the rail. i laugh. this is a wonderful piece. thank you for sharing.

  23. Jana - Sorry to evoke such sad thoughts, but the times are such...and trains did play a huge part in that era.

    APOLLINAIRE'S TATOO - So glad to hear from you again! If I made you laugh, smile, remember, I am gratified. Thanks.

  24. I hummed ... I whistled... I danced! :D

    It has a certified feet tapping rhythm to it. Super fantastic. :)

    You should consider song writing.

    PS: Are you going to spill how was your trip, or are you Keeping Secrets?? :D :D :D

  25. Ani - You know what happens in Paris stays in Paris! ;-)

    I'm glad you liked the poem, though!

  26. Karen, A bit of a Post Script upon my return visit to thank you anew...

    The poem you so masterfully write
    My comment to acknowledge delight
    Your responses ever a treasure
    And indeed add to my pleasure!

  27. Very clever. It catches the remembered thrill of travelling by train as a child and the way the wheels sang to you on the line, but you have not just caught the song, you have given it a context. Well done.

  28. Rose Marie - Thanks, my friend. You drop little poems everywhere!

    Dave - Thank you. I enjoyed riding the trains recently and writing this brought that song back to me, too.

  29. this one sparkles - "arms pumping / knees rising / cheeks blowing / chuff chuffing" and i could see that kid (or at that moment, that train that looked like a kid)- i agree that the meter is perfect - and how it portrays that magic and boundless possibility that trains & tracks seem to have - and i love how alive and kinetic it feels.

  30. joaquin - I'm so glad you're back! Each time I post something with strong rhythm, I think of you - the master of such. The "possibility" of the train is exactly it!

  31. OK Here is the deal Karen -

    I'll skip along
    the tracks with you
    and sing the whistle song,
    and you dear friend frolic
    in my garden green
    as afternoon winds
    move along
    And we shall know
    ever in our heart
    that is takes
    but a knowing,
    a moment of light,
    for friendship
    to have its start.


    Rose Marie

  32. Rose Marie - Merci, merci, mon amie - a moment of light, a sharing of lives.

  33. Love this. Definitely makes one think of childhood and childhood inhibitions. I love trains, love the tracks. You've painted a wonderful picture with your words.


  34. Thanks, Calli! I used to love walking on that rail, too.