A Sister on the Tracks

by Donald Hall

Donald Hall

Between pond and sheepbarn, by maples and watery birches,
Rebecca paces a double line of rust
in a sandy trench, striding on black
creosoted eight-by-eights.
In nineteen-forty-three,
wartrains skidded tanks,
airframes, dynamos, searchlights, and troops
to Montreal. She counted cars
from the stopped hayrack at the endless crossing:
ninety-nine, one hundred; and her grandfather Ben’s
voice shaking with rage and oratory told
how the mighty Boston and Maine
kept the Statehouse in its pocket.
Today Rebecca walks
a line that vanishes, in solitude
bypassed by wars and commerce. She remembers the story
of the bunting’d day her great-great-great-
grandmother watched the first train roll and smoke
from Potter Place to Gale
with fireworks, cider, and speeches. Then the long rail
drove west, buzzing and humming; the hive of rolling stock
extended a thousand-car’d perspective
from Ohio to Oregon, where men who left stone farms
rode rails toward gold.
On this blue day she walks
under a high jet’s glint of swooped aluminum pulling
its feathery contrail westward. She sees ahead
how the jet dies into junk, and highway wastes
like railroad. Beside her the old creation retires,
hayrack sunk like a rowboat
under its fields of hay. She closes her eyes
to glimpse the vertical track that rises
from the underworld of graves,
soul’s ascension connecting dead to unborn, rails
that hum with a hymn of continual vanishing
where tracks cross.
For she opens her eyes to read
on a solitary gravestone next to the rails
the familiar names of Ruth and Matthew Bott, born
in a Norfolk parish, who ventured
the immigrant’s passionate Exodus westward to labor
on their own land. Here love builds
its mortal house, where today’s wind carries
a double scent of heaven and cut hay.

Last updated September 21, 2022