When  I read Michael’s mlmm tale weaver prompt about trains, a strange title for a tale popped into my head: the perverseness of trains. That story never got written.

I thought of all the ways trains have played waking and dreaming scenarios. One of my early memories of sleeping on the train, the car rocking like a cradle, and the lights of the small towns passing by.

A personal narrative staccatoed and haunted by the train whistle late a night; the song of the wheels on the rails; waving at the passenger trains as they passed; the clang of railcar shunting yards at night.

Tunnels through mountains so dark, I could not see my hand in front of my eye; winding through mountains, snaking across trestles on my east to west coast trip.

The rails to trails when trains disappeared from our language, our imagination and our life blood. The old shuttered stations, like images from an apocalyptic movie.

And now, the suburban restoration of select commuter rail stations which once chronicled movement of the businessman’s family to the “country” from 1890-1910 urban America.

Some many memories and images of trains. Personal, photographed, painted.

Songs, and finally a 1965 National Film Board of Canada short, staring Buster Keaton in one of his last films, crossing Canada by rail.

Horse and Train, 1954 (Alex Coville)

So, not a tail weaver’s tale, but a multimedia montage stirred by Michael’s prompt.

While trying to translate my trains on my emotional and memory level, lyrics from a Leonard Cohen song kept echoing:

And then leaning on your window sill
he’ll say one day you caused his will
to weaken with your love and warmth and shelter
And then taking from his wallet
an old schedule of trains, he’ll say
I told you when I came I was a stranger
I told you when I came I was a stranger.

It’s true that all the men you knew were dealers
who said they were through with dealing
Every time you gave them shelter
I know that kind of man
It’s hard to hold the hand of anyone
who is reaching for the sky just to surrender,
who is reaching for the sky just to surrender.
And then sweeping up the jokers that he left behind
you find he did not leave you very much
not even laughter
Like any dealer he was watching for the card
that is so high and wild
he’ll never need to deal another
He was just some Joseph looking for a manger
He was just some Joseph looking for a manger
And then leaning on your window sill
he’ll say one day you caused his will
to weaken with your love and warmth and shelter
And then taking from his wallet
an old schedule of trains, he’ll say
I told you when I came I was a stranger
I told you when I came I was a stranger.
But now another stranger seems
to want you to ignore his dreams
as though they were the burden of some other
O you’ve seen that man before
his golden arm dispatching cards
but now it’s rusted from the elbows to the finger
And he wants to trade the game he plays for shelter
Yes he wants to trade the game he knows for shelter.
Ah you hate to see another tired man
lay down his hand
like he was giving up the holy game of poker
And while he talks his dreams to sleep
you notice there’s a highway
that is curling up like smoke above his shoulder.
It is curling just like smoke above his shoulder.
You tell him to come in sit down
but something makes you turn around
The door is open you can’t close your shelter
You try the handle of the road
It opens do not be afraid
It’s you my love, you who are the stranger
It’s you my love, you who are the stranger.
Well, I’ve been waiting, I was sure
we’d meet between the trains we’re waiting for
I think it’s time to board another
Please understand, I never had a secret chart
to get me to the heart of this
or any other matter
When he talks like this
you don’t know what he’s after
When he speaks like this,
you don’t know what he’s after.
Let’s meet tomorrow if you choose
upon the shore, beneath the bridge
that they are building on some endless river
Then he leaves the platform
for the sleeping car that’s warm
You realize, he’s only advertising one more shelter
And it comes to you, he never was a stranger
And you say ok the bridge or someplace later.
And then sweeping up the jokers that he left behind …
And leaning on your window sill …
I told you when I came I was a stranger. (Several Leonard Cohen songs were featured in the movie McCabe and Mrs. Miller, 1971)

And Gordon Lightfoot’s Railway Trilogy:

There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
when the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
when the green dark forest was too silent to be real
But time has no beginnings and hist’ry has no bounds
as to this verdant country they came from all around
They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forests tall
built the mines, mills and the factories for the good of us all
And when the young man’s fancy was turnin’ to the spring
the railroad men grew restless for to hear the hammers ring
Their minds were overflowing with the visions of their day
and many a fortune won and lost and many a debt to pay
For they looked in the future and what did they see
They saw an iron road runnin’ from the sea to the sea
Bringin’ the goods to a young growin’ land
all up through the seaports and into their hands
Look away said they across this mighty land
from the eastern shore to the western strand
Bring in the workers and bring up the rails
we gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
Open ‘er heart let the life blood flow
gotta get on our way ’cause we’re movin’ too slow
Bring in the workers and bring up the rails
we’re gonna lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
Open ‘er heart let the life blood flow
gotta get on our way ’cause we’re movin’ too slow
get on our way ’cause we’re movin’ too slow
Behind the blue Rockies the sun is declinin’
The stars, they come stealin’ at the close of the day
Across the wide prairie our loved ones lie sleeping
beyond the dark oceans in a place far away
We are the navvies who work upon the railway
swingin’ our hammers in the bright blazin’ sun
Livin’ on stew and drinkin’ bad whiskey
bendin’ our backs ’til the long days are done
We are the navvies who work upon the railway
swingin’ our hammers in the bright blazin’ sun
Layin’ down track and buildin’ the bridges
bendin’ our backs ’til the railroad is done
So over the mountains and over the plains
into the muskeg and into the rain
up the St. Lawrence all the way to Gaspe
swingin’ our hammers and drawin’ our pay
Layin’ ’em in and tyin’ ’em down
away to the bunkhouse and into the town
a dollar a day and a place for my head
a drink to the livin’ a toast to the dead
Oh the song of the future has been sung
all the battles have been won
On the mountain tops we stand
all the world at our command
We have opened up the soil
with our teardrops and our toil
For there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
when the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
when the green dark forest was too silent to be real
when the green dark forest was too silent to be real
And many are the dead men too silent… to be real

 

animation: rails to trails former railway bridge © Lorraine 2018

 

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