Alan: My French was always exécrable. I’m happy enough to muddle along in English, knowing it has a way of sopping up other languages’ gravy.
The most beautiful words in English,
my father declared, one supper,
to his family whose minds opened
like the mouths of baby birds,
were – according to a Frenchman
he said he’d met through work
(oh, exotic arbiter!) – “cellar door.”
So under-appreciated an object
to roll so golden off the tongue!
Handcuffed by first-year French, still
I could hear the resonance, for one
whose “that, of gold” was “cela, d’or.”
Later, I found the record label l’Oiseau-Lyre,
the lyrebird, and judged
the stranger had the better of us there.
Still later, meeting in school Yeats’
jeweled automaton, Stevens’ gold-feathered bird,
I felt the music we all seek
comes not from cages or ideal palms
but from the quibble of rusty hinges
and the half-felt must of air
reaching from cool and freshly opened ground.
Nancy: I loved trains. I loved the motion, the sound, the world passing, the imaginary lives I lived vicariously, the history and stories I played out as the landscape flowed past, my imaginary other selves.
thousands of miles asleep with my head on the rough upholstery
writing my name in the coaldust on the windowsills
a railroad man’s daughter
in the backyards of a thousand small towns
watching their milkmen
their empty night streets
kettaklak, click, kettaklak
beating them to their own dawns, and
to the roll, the long whistle
kettaklak, lullaby, kettaklak
it gets in the blood
of a railroad man’s child
“Night Coach” first appeared in Slow Dancer magazine.