by Robert Nichols
[Bob Nichols, Grace Paley's husband, published his first book of poetry in 1962 through Ferlinghetti's City Lights Books. I just managed to get a copy and will from time to time post excerpts here.]
Beginning when I was six I became my father's accomplice
in his affair with trains.
The wheels of the night train
are thundering over the Portland Street trestle.
We are crouched below, momentarily wrapped in steam.
At a country crossing the Express passes us
and disappears in snow.
The long freight train disappears
jumbled behind the government buildings.
Rain is falling over all the freight yards of the city.
A bell clangs. Over the canal
the drawbridge swings shut.
The diesel starts its long haul
hoisting its load of flatcars reefers & empty gondolas
into the mauve distance which begins here.
Our job was to mark the passage
of all trains going North South & West of Wayne Jtn ME.
as the ornithologists notes the flyways of birds.
We knew the names of all trains
even the secret ones.
As a growing boy
my father kept me awake all night drinking Nehi
in the lunchroom of the South Station, Boston:
at dawn we went out to meet the Owl.
We rushed out of the dining room in the Palmer House
across downtown Chicago, to see the Wolverine in.
We were on hand to greet the Santa Fe Chief.
In Montreal, with my father in his tuxedo
we celebrated the arrival of the Green Mountain Flyer.
Smoke invades the great shed. Swinging our arms
we stamp up and down the platform to keep warm.
We dance just out of range of the slowly subsiding pistons.
Now it is time.
We have arrived by taxi at the old Broad Street Station,
Philadelphia. We are travelling light.
As we pause at the news stand
I notice my father has slipped on his dark glasses.
He is wearing his black derby hat borrowed
from his brother the stock exchange broker.
We are unobserved.
Eyes peeled for detectives
we move out cautiously
across the marble floor mingling with the crowd.
The train is beginning to take off.
We run beside it
along the platform throwing on bags.
Grabbing the handrail
we are swung to safety by the porter.
We pulled it off this time! We have made our get-away.