Apology: I am unable to format this 1,000-word poem correctly using the supplied word processor. There are meant to be verse breaks, and not 1.5 line spacing. The poem is intended to be read aloud. I have inserted xxxx to mark where the verses break. PI.
At precisely 7.52 a.m.
The 7.23 from Llangrannog
Collided with the down-train from the north.
Swaying precariously on the shallow gradient
Driver Lawrence applied the brake
And in a shower of sparks
That seemed to lack their old bite
With a sudden shock of recognition
Knew there was no stopping it.
For an instant, time held its breath.
A light, transgressed, shone brightly red
To warn against commitment
To that course. Still
The unstoppable engine careened on
Conveying many travellers,
Podded with their familiar hiss,
To an unexpected terminus.
Looming suddenly from the mist,
The heavy-goods train pauses, shudders,
Carries on. This could not be.
The signal set at green, all was surely well.
Eyeing the onrushing tunnel of light
Offers up a prayer, then, wild-eyed
Opens up the throttle wide
And plunges into the maelstrom
(As, one day, like seafaring men,
So all engine drivers must
Who ride the steely paths through life
Face the inevitable, head-on.)
Time shut its eyes. Thirty miles away
Pensioner, Mrs Elsie Lovesgrove,
Heard the terrible concatenation
While fetching in the milk.
The savage conjunction
Of mythic beasts locked in rut,
Bellowing their challenge to the heavens
All caution thrown to the winds
Snorting, locked horns,
Clashed together with a hollow ring.
Metal slammed through metal
Opposing mass of five hundred tons,
Molecules of iron displacing space,
Surrendering their force, created alloys,
Rending, grinding, melting, melding
Slow-motioned into one designer beast.
At one hundred sixty miles an hour
Their combined velocity
Generated furious amounts of energy
A million megajoules, outgassing,
Mushroomed skywards in a roiling plasma
Equal to the birth of a small sun,
Taking with it Driver Lawrence
Whose body gladly gives up its vapours,
With joyful alleluya, to the stars.
The energetic grinding of plates,
The plaintive outcry of a thousand rivets,
The sudden compression and expansion
Of boilers pressurised with superheated steam
Could shatter worlds.
Out of that terrible fission,
Clash of inert masses, steel and brass,
Miles of timeworn pipes,
Hydraulic couplings and a tender filled with coke,
The entire history of an age of steam,
Of trade and commerce, of the movement
Of populations in speed and comfort,
Of day trips to Bangor, of ales and wire,
Of finished goods from the far-flung corners of Empire,
The rise of the middle class
And the terrible industry of warfare,
The regrettable business of privatisation
The Beeching cuts
Were all expended in an instant.
A new paradigm
Rose from the alembic
Of melted desires
Like a newborn genie
Ready to perform any service
You could command.
In that first moment
A dreadful silence reigned.
Until, like the chorus
Of early rising birds
Swelling and shrilling
Far out beyond the morning mist
Delineating their mating zones
Among the shrouded trees,
Deafened us with their idiot gladness
That morning, as we lay
Quietly monitoring our rush and ebb,
Alert to any significant gestures,
Entangled like sisters, carefree
In one another’s legs,
The unbearable sound begins –
The cries of the trapped ones
Rising in harmony
Against the banal counterpoint
Of polyphonic ringtones.
Darling, what news?
I waited so long
Are you coming home? The children will be late
I’m stuck on the A485
I can’t reach you
I love you.
“This is the BT answering service.
The person you are calling
you are waiting…”
You tossed away the season ticket
I offered you for life. It lay
Balled in the plastic liner,
Victim of its own practicality,
Its promise of uneventful journeys
Unnerving you with the certainties
Of frictionless motion along parallel lines.
Next to some dried chrysanthemums
A hank of your black hair,
Prised impatiently from your comb;
Reminders from the credit company;
A failed first draft of a new song
That wouldn’t spark.
You sit, cross-legged on the bed,
A strabismus of pink-nipples, your roseate,
Post-coital glow only now
Fading into your bikini line,
Surrounded by dogs
Shuddering noisily in dreams,
While a cafetiere of freshground beans
Trades fairly by the bedside
Ringing a book-cover, some feminist verse.
I imagine you blithely working
Some tricky harmonic dissonance
Into a new round
And something else that rhymes with heart.
Next to your pink
And pleasured body,
Torpid on the pillow
The smugly confident face
As yet not even in focus,
Of a new lover
Stretches into the promising blur of distance
Past the pulsing vein in its neck
Past the tight little nipples
You teased and tugged,
Past the little nests of hair,
The sweetly lolling penis
You borrowed for your own,
Crusted with your innermost secretions,
That came at you with such a fierce conjunction,
The convertible mass of trains,
So that you felt the sun explode
Inside and shook with shock-
waves slopping endlessly around your oceans,
Down to the marbled feet,
Softly remembered skin, that pads
The steel of coated muscle
The hydraulics of tendons
The pistons of bones
The loosely assembled couplings of limbs,
Stock of a new departure
Ready to roll.
Already the rusting remains
Of earlier head-on collisions
Have been carted away
To the breaker’s yard,
And the 7.23 from Llangrannog
Is set on a new course
For a destination
You have never reached.
Perhaps you no longer envisage
An uneventful journey to the north,
Lacking the smash and decimating fury
That fuels your marvellous powers?
Again, the suspension of time:
You hang in that earthly moment
Floating between certainty and oblivion
Where you feel free to breathe
The scented airs of Paradise
(As if you couldn’t wait)
And shop the infernal catalogues
For this season’s collections.
The points have been reset,
Incorrectly as it happens,
The lights that should be showing red
Overlooked by the maintenance men
Are forever glowing green.
You need no encouragement
To career full-pelt up the iron road of life
For there is one-way working only tonight
On the Llanrhystyd gradient.
For L, Plas Nanteos, 2006