Upriver; The Ways of Life



A train rattles out of a city and follows
a river that’s flowing the opposite way.
They pass without greeting at nightfall
at the sum of their speeds, the river at
three m.p.h., the train maybe averaging
forty. Those ducks flying in at an angle
low over the water? Who could guess at
how fast they are going, factored into
the rest?
All the trees between river
and railroad learned long ago to keep
their big hands back out of the way.
A few show the dried-out white stumps
of their wrists, asking for handouts,
but the commuters pretend not to notice,
tapping importance into their phones.
At each depot the train stops, though
a part of it wants to keep rolling.
The passengers feel it there, pushing,
its hands flat on the backs of their seats,
the wheels squeal, making a quarter-turn
forward. But the train holds it back,
that great weight of a people headed
for home.
The commuters step down,
step away in the gathering darkness,
then the train sighs, yanks at the leash,
jerks the cars one by one down the line,
persuading the whole load to roll
all together, the headlamp impatient,
dashing ahead, not looking back.
Fewer and fewer get off at each stop,
the train ever lighter, slipping like mercury
into what’s left of the day. And unless
someone knows the one passenger
next to the last, no one tomorrow
will know who was chosen to ride out
alone to the end of the line.

The Ways of Life

We each had our own. We couldn’t see them
reaching ahead, for they didn’t do that,
at least in any manner one could predict,
but they spread out behind, thousands of ways
we’d spun as we’d gone, that now had been
woven tightly together to cover the past.
Someone might say, “That’s just how he was;
he had that way about him.” Or maybe, “Oh,
she really had a way, though, didn’t she?,”
and in time there lay a heavy, dusty shroud
woven of ways spread far out behind us,
back into the dark, with the past face up
and open-eyed beneath it, hands now folded,
and each of us out there on the leading edge
of the weaving of ways, watching the shuttle
sweep toward us down out of the stars.