A set of railroad tracks ran through the path I took to walk to town. If you were caught in the train’s path, you could wait up to ten minutes for the train to pass. It doesn’t sound like much, but in summer’s youth, to give up 10 minutes was just too much. The things that could be accomplished were extraordinary. You could climb on the feet of the giant viking statue. Peruse the aisles at Woolworth’s. The penny candy at Ben Franklin. Ride the back of a shopping cart from Olson’s super market. Swing to the sky on the playground. Drag a stick in the empty ballpark’s sand. Balance in the middle of a teeter-totter. Smudge the windows with open face looks into the movie theatre. Smell the books at the public library. 10 minutes could simply not be wasted waiting for a train.
So if you heard one, a train, rounding the last curve around the lake before the tracks, you ran like hell. (I only said it like that in my head. Outloud, I would have spelled it “h – e – double hockey sticks.” Nevertheless, I ran! With everything I had, I ran to beat this train. To capture a part of my life that I knew I would never get back. I wasn’t going to miss it.
Much later, I would learn of the poet Ruth Stone. Growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out, working in the fields and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barrelling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming . . . ‘cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, “run like hell” to the house as she would be chased by this poem.
The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Knowing full well, that if she didn’t catch it, it would “continue on across the landscape looking for another poet.”
I suppose we are all only vessels. Life is a series of moments floating, racing around the universe, and we have to be open, ready, willing to catch them. I don’t want want to miss out. In this life, I want to be the one who beats the train into town. I want to be the poet who captures the poem.
The morning sun is rising, as sure as a whistle blowing down the tracks. I hear it. Getting louder. I’m ready!