Trainscribbling – Moving and Writing.
Grand Central Terminal. RL Fifield photo.
When I leave the city, it’s either on a plane or a train. On a plane, you have little sense of forward travel once you’ve reached cruising altitude. Everyone channels sardine-ism for a number of hours, and the landscape below loses relevance and becomes a myth, of sorts. On a train, you hurtle through rapidly shifting landscapes of human scale. Each passing view brings you into a new space, posing new questions: Why was that factory abandoned? Why was the last town prosperous, and this town so poor? What sort of building did that foundation once support? The train pushes forward, taking your thoughts with it.
This is where I do some of my best work. I might be writing about the train ride itself, but more likely, I’m writing fiction, or working on 18th century servant research. Dialogue effortlessly pours onto the page between Philadelphia and Lancaster. The Northeast Corridor encourages what I call sprinting. I prefer pen and paper for this exercise: pour onto the page whatever enters the mind – don’t stop to think or censor yourself. Keep it to short bursts, then move on. Use the content later to stretch your writing muscle.
I do wanna railroad. Hoboken Station, 2011. RL Fifield photo.
I love the train for various reasons. I’m one less car on the road. You can get up when you get restless, and go for a walk. The Amtrak Cafe Car is somewhat lack-luster, but they serve Corona, in case your coach is overheated (just apply to forehead, then drink). And time that you would otherwise commit to driving to your destination is now your own. With that time, I’ve written things like this:
Northeast Corridor Postmodern
And that’s where I left you, Under refinery sizzle, crouching head to the rail and aching hands to dry lips.
Windowlust, Nose grease on glass and waving to the shrinking Great big Ed dealing cars, gnat minions pumping and squeak-wiping Sharp creased white trousers and bowties goodbye. Trans-Am, or more likely trans-fat Pork rinds crackling wrapper, rattling in the car wind.
Antiquated hats take tickets and say Yes, we know what they say In the old movies, flickering up there above this awkwardness. Rails corkscrew into thickets Past shimmerings of toxicity Ingenuity, our bra strap, pilled and graying, EMERGENCY Mother shakes her head. Telephone poles flung into marsh froth, sticks Pick up, please But we’ve wheedled newer toys.
Spicy mince bit but Her funeral cake frosted quick chemical pink and tasteless Straining in old photos Now fissures crack the bleached pavement which held cars, which held people Flaccid plaid armchairs, stony stares in the TV light.
There, paint-choked ornament above Fluorescent squint Flaking the spongy platform no lipstick smear, perfunctory staring over your shoulder after the SUVs that don’t wave hello.
Steel streams past the pinched yearning, Fathers flick cigarettes into the street, Roast beef cooling the pursed lips of mothers But we’re all hiding behind the shed sneaking something strong snickering wet mouths and ruffle crush Dabbing at the red smear.
Now I’m hurtling southward, Past hushed streets no longer suckling Baggage, energy, Father, the mail The train no longer stops here, Town of my christening and Glass Broken glass in the afternoon sear. That track-side is mine, swamp cabbage, then sharp onion grass.