A prompt from Jackie Kay’s Fiere, “and child in that back garden waving at this steam train” – hence this poem arrives writing itself
Past Present Future
Railway lines were always built
as straight as the engineers could make them.
Regardless of the local communities passed by
even when now and again they had to bend
or wind around the base of a hill.
After all, that’s what the train is for:
to take those in it, or the quantity of goods
or cattle carried
As far as wanted.
In a much shorter time than the horse
ambling along the canal bank
or clopping the lane that then was
more or less all grass
and certainly grass up the middle.
So the attention of the magnate
and the engineer, and the platelayers
and eventually the drivers
is always ahead, along, arrowing
to a future, and so they miss it,
the future, the one waiting to be.
There is a child there in that back garden
Waving, waving as the train moves steadily
steaming unsteadily puff puff
Going there, going there, going there
as the hand of the child flies
Left Right, Left Right, See me, see me
At last the fireman rests his shovel
Glad of the chance to take his cap
And wave while the sweat dries.