Trusting The Song

out of the black dawn
of british factories thru
switch-points of time & into
the black night of mountains
trusting the ritual
of metal gripped cold
in the palm of your hand

rumbling low & certain
across trestles curving dark
into cedar trusting the blind robot
switches rail beneath you fixed
to rock trusting bolts electric
circuits trusting cylinders
lubed w/ oil
trusting ties & the wheels rusht
momentum luring you east from vancouver

rolling thru the bend into
the white trusting light
of another train

knowing each wrenched
jolt seconds before—
knowing crusht metal
jerkt from your fist concussion
of steel hurtling your awful
flesh hard on the grade—
the black space before your eyes
trusting death

is this
what your ancestor children groped
coal from the cheeks of england for?
is this what your ancestor madmen
moulded iron into pistons for?
is this why your forebears
left sheep & their fields dressed
w/ cotton?

that one night on the mountain line
you should be discovered
dead beneath a diesel engine your trust
derailed glint of steel & a memory
of two centuries graved
in white light behind your eyes?

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Trusting the Song”?

This poem was written 30 years ago when I was very young in learning how to write poetry. I hadn’t been exposed to other languages, to work in other languges, to especially the 20th century history of poetry and its developments in other parts of the world, the explosion of forms, methods, workings only were opened to me later on. So I wrote from the narrow conception I had of poetry, from just taking English poetry in school, where W.H. Auden or Eliot were as contemporary as we got, and where foreign poetry very very important such as Mallarmé, Baudelaire, Lorca, Mayakovsky, Rilke, Celan, etc. were utterly ignored, absent. Even Pound, Zukovsky, Oppen, Gertrude Stein weren’t taught to us. We were deliberately deceived about the breadth and wonder of poetry to fulfill narrow curriculum requirements that acted against poetry, really.

Why? I don’t know. Out of condescension toward students? If that was the case, ugh. Students are smarter than that by far and dont need to be condescended to. Out of the teachers’ fear? More likely, I think, out of that fear and out of a kind of inertia. People teach the way they were taught, regardless of how defective that was.

The poem wasn’t inspired, but provoked by my reading about a head-on train collision. I think it would be unethical for a poem to be inspired by a train collision. Someone died. Inspiration?

What poetic techniques did you use in “Trusting the Song”?

A kind of standard manipulation of feeling derived from romantic poetry.

This poem “Trusting The Song” originally appeared in Jalna Revisited. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 66 (Autumn 1975): 89-90.

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