Dear train wreck, dear terrible engines, dear spilled freight,
dear unbelievable mess, all these years later I think
to write back. I was not who I am now. A sail is a boat,
a bark is a boat, a mast is a boat and the train was you and me.
Dear dark, dear paper, dear files I can't toss, dear calendar
and visitation schedule, dear hello and goodbye.
If a life is one thing and then another; if no grasses grow
through the tracks; if the train wreck is a red herring;
if goodbye then sincerely. Dear disappeared bodies
and transitions, dear edge of a good paragraph.
Before the wreck, we misunderstood revision.
I revise things now. I teach pertinence. A girl in class told
us about some boys who found bodies on the tracks
then went back and they were gone, the bodies.
It was true that this story was a lie, like all things
done to be seen. I still think about this story, what it would
be like to be a boy finding bodies out in the woods,
however they were left—and think of all the ways they
could be left. There I was, teaching the building
of a good paragraph, dutiful investigator
of sentences, thinking dear boys, dear stillness in the woods,
until, again, there is the boy I knew as a man
whose father left him at a gas station, and unlike the lie
of the girl's story, this one is true—he left him there for good.
Sometimes this boy, nine and pale, is sitting next to me, sitting there
watching trains go past the gas station in Wyoming,
thinking there is a train going one way, and a train
going the other way, each at different and variable speeds:
how many miles before something happens
that feels like answers when we write them down—
like solid paragraphs full of transitional phrases
and compound, complex sentences, the waiting space
between things that ends either in pleasure or pain. He
keeps showing up, dear boy, man now, and beautiful
like the northern forest, hardwoods iced over.
About this Poem
"I was thinking about synechdoche and the mathematics of meaning—how one thing can be something else, or a piece of it, and how this washes through a life. I wanted, also, to write a letter to the idea of leaving, and so this poem began to be what it is. What ends up being true, I think, is that meaning slips and slides; writing tries to catch it and hold it still."
Kerrin McCadden is the author of Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes (New Issues, 2014). She lives in Montpelier, Vermont.
Date Published: 2013-06-21
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/epistle-leaving