I’ve ridden on trains in five countries, or six, depending on how you count. Maybe because of interesting train experiences—sneaking off from Moscow to Leningrad when I was a student in the Soviet Union, riding under the English Channel from London to Paris, going into New York for an afternoon to the opera, coming this close to missing a train to Kiev because of a little too much vodka—I love riding trains. The idea of being on a train always appeals to me, and perhaps my past has given me a romantic imagination when I think about one.
There was once a train that ran in a circle around Atlanta, though that train has now gone to railroad heaven, to clatter contentedly for eternity. In the place where the railroad used to be, the city has decided, in a remarkable and perhaps unexpected display of wisdom, to convert that giant circle into an enormous pedestrian path for walking, jogging, and biking, with connected parks, outdoor art, and restaurants.
The glory of the full circle is still in the future, but part of the path is finished. A week ago a friend offered to take me to the Beltline, as it’s called, and we walked along looking at the art and at young people shaking their fist at death in a skateboard park. Then we made our way back to a restaurant in a former warehouse, for wine and appetizers, including delicious fresh beets.
Later as I thought about this wonderful project the city is engaged in, I applied my train imagination and wrote a poem. Since I’m not a real poet, I make no claims, but I’m nevertheless willing to litter the internet with yet another damn poem.
Imagine I stand
on a weatherbeaten platform in 1920.
Porters in black caps wait nearby.
Downtown Atlanta is miles away.
Imagine I lean against a post
looking at my watch
as summer heat builds up.
Perhaps I remove my hat to wipe the sweat.
wondering why the train is late,
wishing you would arrive,
wanting you in my arms.
Imagine I walk
where once the railroad ran.
The rails have given way to a paved walk.
Atlanta towers against the azure evening sky.
Imagine I stop beside a historical marker
near the abandoned platform,
thinking of passengers long gone,
the chill of fall against my face.
Perhaps I think about you
walking that path with me,
wearing the scarf we bought in Dublin,
waiting to get home to warmth.
Imagine I sit
at a table on that platform in 20 years.
The sleek electric train slides by.
A waiter from the bistro takes our order.
Imagine I turn to you,
the scent of earth in the spring breeze.
It is not imagination to know
that I will smile slowly,
thinking that time does not exist
when I look at your eyes.