Two Train Wrecks—Hayden Carruth’s and My Own

I suppose that no subject is new if you have an encyclopedic knowledge of poetry, but I don’t, so I was tickled to find this poem by Hayden Carruth that linked us in an unusual way. Who knew others had written about train wrecks? I don’t know the story behind his poem, which appears in his Collected Shorter Poems: 1946—1991, but I’ll never forget mine. On a Thanksgiving break in college thirty years ago, a friend and I decided to visit the Grand Canyon, a twelve hour drive from Palo Alto. Deep into the night we passed a sight still burned into my memory. What looked hellish to me, though, looked liberating to Hayden Carruth. Here’s his poem.

The Wreck of the Circus Train

Couplings buckled, cracked, collapsed,
And all reared, wheels and steel
Pawing and leaping above the plain,

And fell down totally, a crash
Deep in the rising surf of dust,
As temples into their cellars crash.

Dust flattened across the silence
That follows the end of anything,
Drifted into cracks of wreckage.

But motion remained, a girder
Found gravity and shifted, a wheel
Turned lazily, turning, turning,

And life remained, at work to
Detain spirit: three lions, one
Male with wide masculine mane,

Two female, short, strong, emerged
And looked quickly over the ruin,
Turned and moved toward the hills.

Here’s my poem from Love in the City of Grudges.

One Night in Kingman, Arizona

On the bungalow motel’s cave like stucco ceiling
lizards ran loose. A black-and-white RCA made
this evening’s train wreck look like vintage history.
But we’d seen it for ourselves beyond city limits:
freight cars toppled down track embankments,
still coupled on their sides. Belly smoke rose
to shroud the moon, a coal-faced monk pondering
the damage. Small fires burned beside the tracks,
as if gypsies camped to scavenge after daybreak.
Chickens soldiered through our low beams
toward desert blackness. Defying cruiser tops
spinning red, we stoked our hash bowl, knowing
we’d never see such sights again. We’d heard
radio preachers warn the sky itself would burn.
Nothing shown on TV later could tame this land.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Hudson Valley Poetry Blog is produced by Will Nixon, author of My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse and Love in the City of Grudges.

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