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William Carlos Williams

(17 September 1883 – 4 March 1963 / New Jersey)

Overture to a Dance of Locomotives


Men with picked voices chant the names
of cities in a huge gallery: promises
that pull through descending stairways
to a deep rumbling.

The rubbing feet
of those coming to be carried quicken a
grey pavement into soft light that rocks
to and fro, under the domed ceiling,
across and across from pale
earthcolored walls of bare limestone.

Covertly the hands of a great clock
go round and round! Were they to
move quickly and at once the whole
secret would be out and the shuffling
of all ants be done forever.

A leaning pyramid of sunlight, narrowing
out at a high window, moves by the clock:
disaccordant hands straining out from
a center: inevitable postures infinitely
repeated--
two--twofour--twoeight!
Porters in red hats run on narrow platforms.
This way ma'am!
--important not to take
the wrong train!
Lights from the concrete
ceiling hang crooked but--
Poised horizontal
on glittering parallels the dingy cylinders
packed with a warm glow--inviting entry--
pull against the hour. But brakes can
hold a fixed posture till--
The whistle!

Not twoeight. Not twofour. Two!

Gliding windows. Colored cooks sweating
in a small kitchen. Taillights--

In time: twofour!
In time: twoeight!

--rivers are tunneled: trestles
cross oozy swampland: wheels repeating
the same gesture remain relatively
stationary: rails forever parallel
return on themselves infinitely.
The dance is sure.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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