40th Anniversary Feature: A SUGGESTION FOR DEPARTING
BY AMBER VOGEL
The passengers gather. The conductor smokes
The last of his cigarette, leans from the door,
And flicks the end away. Your steps
Quicken. You are clutching your ticket
And your magazine. You stop. You wheel
Round, panicked by yet another
Vagrant thought, brought face to face
With your inelegant impulse to worry.
You are simply too well trained
In the habits of worry and possession
To resist. You have left
Something. You have left your toothbrush
By the basin. You cannot leave,
It seems, without leaving something behind,
Without proving, again, that the smokescreen
Is useless, that reality will out—
The toothbrush will be left, the train
Will leave. Why resist? You see this:
Your foot poised on the unfolded step,
Your polished shoe actually gleaming
(A silly idea) like a smiling face.
Though it is silly, it is something pleasant
To think about. The porter who wheels
Your luggage to the door hands it up. The wheels
Of the train move, gather speed, and rattle
You through the passage, right and left
And so on, like a dry bean in a matchbox,
A bean with luggage. Strange faces
Peer from compartments. You find,
When you stumble into your own smoke-filled
Cubicle, a man and his foul cigar.
You cough. You mutter. You manage to step,
By accident, on his delicate toes.
You barely disturb the stoical train
Of his thought. You had set your hopes
On this, and he merely winces, trains
His eyes on his newspaper, and accepts
His fate, the cruel spin of the wheel.
You wrestle with the window, wave
Your arms like a windmill, step
Out to the passage to breathe, consider
What recourse has been left
To you (none), wander to the dining car,
And order—in no particular order—smoked
Salmon, beef Wellington, chilled consommé.
There is, in retreat, a certain loss of face,
Of faith. And yet, though you ought to face
The facts, you need not wallow in them.
Indeed, you might even train
Yourself to leave reason behind. You might say,
“I will have Elba toast with my smoked
Consommé, and the fish for dessert,
And then I will consume an entire wheel
Of cheese.” This has nothing at all to do
With menus or manners. When you leave,
Leave! Be definite. Do not linger
Over mawkish farewells. Step away, step
Away! After all, who does not relish
The illusion of departure? Who would not step
Away from old encumbrances
And awkward embraces? Your blank face
Offers itself to this gesture: cool cheek
Brushes cheek. These rituals of leaving
Might distract you from the proceedings,
Might keep you here, while the train
Chugs out of the station,
While its numerous, ponderous wheels
Roll away. But, no, you hurry along
The platform, through the billowing smoke.
Of course, you know this, have done
This, need not be told this, step by step.
You may simply turn your head and see,
In the train window, the reflection of your face
And the soup spoon raised to your lips, and then
See the train puffing out its gritty smoke.
You may think about this, instead. It means little.
Amber Vogel lives in Chapel Hill, where she is Senior Curriculum Developer for the University of North Carolina’s Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.”
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