END OF THE LINE – With Background

For those who live at the end of the line,

New Lots Avenue or Dover Plains,

Bay Head Junction or Babylon,

the names of their trains and neighborhoods

bear the magic of Destination.

In Danbury, Port Jervis, Port Jefferson,

the tracks don’t stretch to infinity

in both directions; they stop

at stones or steel. Sure of seats,

commuters dream their way to work.

When the sun is gone, they’re the last

reaching home to rest—at Netcong,

Ditmars Boulevard, Greenport,

Far Rockaway.

As a child, I was fascinated by trains – their strength; the distant places they could carry you to; their routes through places that didn’t correspond to the towns you passed through along streets and highways. The tracks, as you stood by them, seemed to go endlessly in both directions.

I lived near a station that served as the end of a line of the Boston-area MTA, as it was called then. There were places I’d never been to, but I knew their names from the els, trolleys, and subways—ending points like Forest Hills and Reservoir.

I often took the train back to Boston from my college. At South Station a small metal barrier was set at the end of the tracks, I assumed to stop the train if the engineer hadn’t braked sufficiently. This was the end of the line—all the trains from New York, Albany, and Washington, connecting to the trains  from all the distant places, came to an end right there, at the puny barricade.

I wrote some of this poem with the aid of timetables I picked up at Penn Station in New York. The other names I’d seen on subway and railroad trains around the city. I loved the sounds, especially “Far Rockaway” that I ended with; this was decades before I finally took the train to go there.

After I wrote this, and it appeared in the New York Times, I realized there was another meaning. I was glad I hadn’t been explicit about our lifetime ride to the end of—well, you know what I mean.

(Note: a lot of short poems seem to feel right at the sonnet’s length of 14 lines—even without the constraints of meter and rhyming imposed by the original Italian models and all the centuries of writing by our ancestors.)


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