I hand my bag up
Into the care of a handsome porter.
He places it behind him on the floor of the railroad car
And turns back to offer his hand to me.
A queen for a moment, I accept his help
With a gracious nod
And step up into my royal coach,
A silver sleeper car on twin steel tracks.
The pressure of a hand on my back aids my ascent.
When I turn to thank my helper,
No one is behind me.
The ebony porter questions me with a look.
"Thank you" seems little enough to say
But I say it anyway
And smile an apology for my delay.
His answering grin lights up the shadowed vestibule.
He points me to my compartment,
An upholstered closet which will be my home-
At least for the next few days.
As I try to slide the door shut, I feel it stick.
A moment later, the resistance fades
And I can close the panel.
Now I understand.
The hand on my back,
The push on the door-
My traveling companion has joined me.
Granddaddy was a railroad man.
He died beneath the wheels of a train,
Crushed and severed by cold steel
Meeting warm flesh in the night.
"His lantern went out" was the explanation.
"The engineer thought he had the go-ahead signal."
In those days before electronic communications,
Men lived and died by the amount of fuel in their lanterns.
And Granddaddy was one who died.
I never met him.
His fatal sojourn took place years before I was born.
Yet I feel him with me whenever I board a train.
As a child, I received endless fussing over-
From train personnel who had known him-
Whenever my grandmother and I traveled by train.
What does a toddler know of dead ancestors?
I only knew I felt at home on those old trains,
And sensed myself well loved by those I met.
Those days ended too soon
As school schedules and changes in railway rules
Put train rides on the back burner of my life.
Now I ride with greater understanding of the magic.
This ticket, paid for from my funds,
Carries me across the country
Not just a state line.
Heading out on an adventure of hope
Or joy or desperation, I ride the train.
I do not ride alone.
I look out of windows at scenes Granddaddy might have seen,
Rock to the same rhythm he felt,
Listen to the steady rumble of the wheels.
Does it make him smile to know
His love of the rails runs in my veins?
Is the thrill I feel when I hear the cry of a lonesome train whistle
Pierce the dark velvet of the night
An echo of his feelings?
The miles sweep by, telephone poles and backs of towns
Interspersed with trees and fields.
Trestles transport us across rivers and streams.
We skirt glittering lakes.
The sun sets and nighttime's blanket shakes out
A pattern of stars streaking high above the dark ground.
The throbbing locomotive draws me closer to my destination
And the loss of this connection to my spiritual traveling companion.
When I disembark from the time machine which is a train,
I leave him behind.
Does he ride the rails and watch for my return?
Or is he drawn back to this world only
When I connect to his?