On The Platform - Poem by Tom Sleigh
The omen I didn't know I was waiting for
pulled into the station the same instant as the train.
It was just a teenage boy busking on the platform,
cello cutting through garble, Bach's repetitions
hard-edged as a scalpel probing an open wound.
But then I kept thinking how a sound wave
travels the path of least resistance,
how the notes rebound off steel and stone
the same as a blast wave shattering row on row
of windows as it swerves through the city.
And when the music stops, on the balcony
above the rubble, coffee and tea are served.
And if there's sugar, is it one lump or two
and did you hear what happened to Mrs. So and So?
I saw, out from under the grime, whiskers
dipping into clear water that trickled between
the rails to get the feel of what was near—
the same scene as on the church wall, the slimy brethren
gathered at the river, one gnawing
an ear of corn, the rest intently listening
to Francis teaching them their catechism
about the wild man John and his crucified cousin.
Except they were birds in the painting, not rats.
But let's go with that, let them stand
on hind legs and sniff incense and myrrh
wafting down from high up in the air
so that one day on miraculous, fly paper feet
they'll scale the golden walls and storm the high ground.
Nothing moving on the platform, nothing for miles.
And then a shovel clanging against paving stone
like an old man clearing rubble while a rat climbs a vine
and looks into the broken window and smells the smells.
Rubble shoulder high after two weeks work,
a toilet with a sink and a light on a pull chain
stand framed at the end of the gravel walk
already sprouting suckers leafing out more green
from the fire that scorched the burned out bush.
Ten years, fifteen, and tree limbs shade the bedrooms
and branch out window frames toward the sun.
And where the electric pump pumped water for the town
the wellhead lies broken and two clear streams
wear ruts in the floor of the wrecked house.
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