Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1636) Overture to a Dance of Locomotives
Men with picked voices chant the names of cities in a huge gallery: promises that pull through descending stairways to a deep rumbling. The rubbing feet of those coming to be carried quicken a grey pavement into soft light that rocks to and fro, under the domed ceiling, across and across from pale earthcoloured walls of bare limestone. Covertly the hands of a great clock go round and round! Were they to move quickly and at once the whole secret would be out and the shuffling of all ants be done forever. A leaning pyramid of sunlight, narrowing out at a high window, moves by the clock; discordant hands straining out from a center: inevitable postures infinitely repeated - two-twofour-twoeight! Porters in red hats run on narrow platforms. This way ma'am! - important not to take the wrong train! Lights from the concrete ceiling hang crooked but - Poised horizontal on glittering parallels the dingy cylinders packed with warm glow - inviting entry - pull against the hour. But brakes can hold a fixed posture till - The whistle! Not twoeight. Not twofour. Two! Gliding windows. Coloured cooks sweating in a small kitchen. Taillights - In time: twofour! In time: twoeight! - rivers are tunneled: trestles cross oozy swampland: wheels repeating the same gesture remain relatively stationary: rails forever parallel return on themselves infinitely. The dance is sure.
It takes a very special poet to see and capture the beauty of something as banal as a railway station. It takes a very special poet to take the sheer mundaneness of the experience of entering that station and to turn it into an allegory and a vision of human existence. It takes a very special poet to convey, with incredible clarity, not only the sight of the terminal, but also its sounds and its rhythms. It takes a very special poet to combine the easy realism of "two-twofour-twoeight!" with the analytic precision of "inevitable postures infinitely repeated". It takes a very special poet to make something as clunky as an old steam locomotive dance. It takes William Carlos Williams. What moves me about this poem is the sheer beauty of it, the extravagence of the conceit and the breathtaking way that Williams pulls it off. It's amazing how exact Williams' observations are - to see what I mean just try boarding a train from Grand Central station with "promises / that pull through deep stairways / to a deep rumbling" running through your head. And it's fascinating how the poem is truly an overture - how there's a distinct sense at the end of having been launched into some great adventure, of a rhythm building to some grand waltz. Just the way you feel when you're starting a long train journey and the train finally pulls out of the station and into the countryside. Aseem P.S. Is it just me, or does this poem read like a cubist or Dada-ist painting - like something Marcel Duchamp would have painted?