For a time, I used to get the train from Dunbar to Edinburgh and back again at least twice a week. In a bid to keep me sane and to put this time to work, I challenged myself to write a poem in the 20-minute journey hame. I attempted not to write or edit these outwith the train journey. Be kind then, I am on my way-hame.
I am still
not on this.
Twenty minutes in
and not enough time to-
They’ve got their carry out
for their carry on. Cocktails
in tins, clink. And you all
side-eye. The hushed tut!
That fuckin’ hell sigh.
Who are we-really? Aye.
I am trying to think about anything else
but I really need a wee. I am wondering
if you got my message to book the taxi. I just
want to be at home. I think you may already
be asleep and I am not sure what is worse, the lack
of toilets on this train or how much I miss you.
How about that for love?
Nae seats – writing this poem
on my knees – wish I could
have chatted for longer but
I really needed to make this train.
Now, I am on my haunches thinking
of all the things I forgot to say.
We are tired today on the 4:33. The man across from me,
is out for the count, mouth dropped open, his railcard
out like a do not disturb. I walked past two of you
on my way to this seat, flat out, heads down.
Night is closing in at our windows and we seem
to comply with our heads lolling. We have switched
rails, slowed down to hibernation. Drooling
on our neighbours. Sleeping faces squashed like
newborns by the glass. Powered by the low snores
we make it hame, emerge from our carriages yawning,
embarrassed of each other, as if something illicit
took place. We snap back to game face- hame face.
Quick nods in passing and we’re off. Lumbering out
of the station to Station Road-still shaking it off.
It is probably not polite to eat garlic prawns,
I am sorry. I am really hungry. I missed my lunch.
If I waited to eat them. Like at home on a plate.
I would have had to share. I am not good at that.
Less a poem. More an apology. Except I am not sorry.
We’re holding our breath. Held in.
There is a special kind of silence today.
Our phones are no sort of distraction.
The darkness offers no view. And the light
is far too bright in this carriage to sleep.
20th November (Glasgow to Dunbar)
Happy Days. Happy Days.
We’re jammy. Aye,
jammy as fuck.
We’re going for a pint?
I’ve got my work in the morning.
I’ll go for one just to be social like.
I am no going to Cardiff – fucking hell hole.
Aye, been there, done that, no going back in the morning.
Aye, Bristol though? You’ll still get the craic.
I think they’ve solved their centre back problem
to be honest. So you no going for a pint then?
No man, I‘ve got work in the morning.
Aye, he’s a bigger arse than two bums.
So, not even just the one pal?
Aye, I could go one.
No me, I am off to my bed.
Got himsel a young wife.
Aye, is that right?
He’s not invited to Christmas dinner.
His wife goes on her own.
Cause they don’t approve?
Cause he’s an arse.
You’ll come for one?
Aye, alright then, but
I am no missing my bus.
I had the words damp dogs,
all day in my head. I was sure
with the weather we’ve been having –
it would fit to describe us on the 5:07.
But I met a neighbour and we talked
Brexit, but even so, I think it stands-
with the day we’ve been having
and the year and the year before that.
I overhear you say
I feel so depressed,
all your mates laugh.
You play dance music
on you phone. Complain
about an early start
a boyfriend and how long
you have been waiting.
I hear you say, I’m lonely.
Your friends say No! You’re
not lonely at all.
Last Saturday train to Newcastle,
thankful to get a seat. Three women
stand in the aisle say, they were
lucky to make it, this was their last
chance hame. Man cheers when a young lad
gives up his seat. Will you all be getting off
at the next stop, you Scottish people?
We remain mostly quiet,
although someone nods,
and another says,
aye, we’re all for Dunbar.
I may have drunk
too much wine.
How did those drunken
poets ever manage?
My only line –
Still full of proseco bubbles
and dying from the lack of sleep,
the silly that took me like a storm
last night. I am sure I was fine I say
to myself, let out a huge sigh and a wee
bubble. Och! I’m sure I wasne that bad –
Aye, you were. I flick that voice off my shoulder,
realise, I failed to notice anything, and the train is
in Dunbar. Thank fuck! – I‘m no one for that city life.
Aye, you’re an arse. Fuck! I say sorry to no one,
leave one more bubble in the carriage.
I can’t see the-
for the high elbows pushing me
back, heading away wi every step, I see you up
ahead, you wave all nice, but I’ll never get near,
not wi all these folk, wi their elbows
sharp edge; and I regret- oh! Oh!
That I was so, so slow getting here
and that you were so, so much better at getting
ahead, all reserved ticket, all first class, first class.
While, I’m shouting my odds, fool in wide berth,
squashed like a sardine, spicy sauce, served on toast.
We’ve been talking facts, missing
the fact I’ve missed two trains
and my tea but the fact remains
I would miss all the trains to talk
more poems wi you. I’m a bad influence
but you are the best of best influences on me.
Mind that gap, you tell
me over coffee. I can’t
tell you that I’ve been
minding that gap
in you, since we first
met. That I put it down to
your wondrous mind, the slip
stream – that writer’s eccentricity.
Something is shifting in here,
you say, pointing to your temple.
We go to the gallery, returning again
and again to this one painting-
all wild sea, dark sparkle sky-
but I remember now, that you
liked the cheerful paintings the best,
the ones with the brightest colours.
Sonia Delaunay-Terk, Colored Rhythm (1953), gouache and pencil on paper, The Riklis Collection of McCrory Corporation, MoMA.
This is part of RHYTHM, a section of The Learned Pig devoted to exploring rhythm as individual and collective, as poetic and biological, and the ways that rhythm dictates life. RHYTHM is conceived and edited by Rachel Goldblatt.