Interpreting the Passage + Of Course
Sherry Cook Stanforth
Interpreting the Passage
A train interrupted the poem
I was writing near the river
wall. I heard vireos calling,
then that deep stir of old track
woven inside yellow compass weed.
I could not go back to the page. I had
to cast aside my task of writing grief
(a woman carrying a sheet to cover
the face of a mantle clock)
into lyrical, storied sense. I raced
over the rain-cut hill to watch
boxcars. Their rattling jarred
my teeth, sped up my heart in such
a way as to make my eyes tear. I knew
the rarity of this passing—so few trains
ran these days—and I recalled the girl
I once was, standing too close to the rails
pulling nectar from honeysuckle
with the tip of my tongue, imagining
my life, ticketed and then tucked into
a journey of blurred cedar trees, hoboes.
Smoke plumes curled into a long-
whistled wail. Chicory and grasses lifted
in the wind as blown pages, and I believed
the low hum in my bones was proof that
magic still existed along the boundaries.
I stood there, believing, while miles bent
toward the darkest part of the text: sections
bearing centuries-old coal with covers stamped
CTCX, UTLX and AMOX…something pressurized
in white tubes. PROCOR segments in green
bundles, steel cold pipes ready to pump
fluids into prepped earth-holes,
plus rounded tubs marked VELX,
and sulfuric acid waiting to flame
into petroglyphs. At the end, no
caboose—just two cars sporting
an artist’s grafitti—Catelin loves A.J.
scrawled beneath I AM BOSS in block letters,
sprayed with precision in primary colors.
I thought this might echo some story
I’d heard, but I struggled to translate
the folding grasses and that loud rush
of air with no words following.
the tides will turn for you,
and for me—miracles shine
in the scaled faces of fish,
simmer inside geologic
fissures made hot by
the earth’s breath.
Every cell works
to become the body.
Territories form cities,
then expand to universes
holding wonder or
defeat. We come to know
our place by reading
tree lines or map legends
or posted signals, following
designs for what is home,
or not-home. How alive is
the mind when naming
what is ours, or raising things
(flags, guns, hungry children)
or burrowing deep down
for sleep! This matter now
depends on perspective:
the face of God appearing
as a burning white plume,
a thinning coyote, or an eye
ghosted on the window pane.
Perhaps one day we will
wander into light, surprised
by the beauty of arpeggio.
Or, we will keep pressing
on to meet up with our event
horizon, that final singularity.
Sherry Cook Stanforth is founder/director of Thomas More University’s Creative Writing Vision/MFA program, co-editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel and managing editor of the river anthology Riparian (Dos Madres Press, 2019). She designs/produces the Express arts event series and performs in a 3-generation Appalachian family band, Tellico. She is also the author of Drone String (Bottom Dog Press, 2015).