By Kerrin McCadden
Dear train wreck, dear terrible engines, dear spilled freight,
dear unbelievable mess, all these years later I think
to write back. I was not who I am now. A sail is a boat,
a bark is a boat, a mast is a boat and the train was you and me.
Dear dark, dear paper, dear files I can’t toss, dear calendar
and visitation schedule, dear hello and goodbye.
If a life is one thing and then another; if no grasses grow
through the tracks; if the train wreck is a red herring;
if goodbye then sincerely. Dear disappeared bodies
and transitions, dear edge of a good paragraph.
Before the wreck, we misunderstood revision.
I revise things now. I teach pertinence. A girl in class told
us about some boys who found bodies on the tracks
then went back and they were gone, the bodies.
It was true that this story was a lie, like all things
done to be seen. I still think about this story, what it would
be like to be a boy finding bodies out in the woods,
however they were left—and think of all the ways they
could be left. There I was, teaching the building
of a good paragraph, dutiful investigator
of sentences, thinking dear boys, dear stillness in the woods,
until, again, there is the boy I knew as a man
whose father left him at a gas station, and unlike the lie
of the girl’s story, this one is true—he left him there for good.
Sometimes this boy, nine and pale, is sitting next to me, sitting there
watching trains go past the gas station in Wyoming,
thinking there is a train going one way, and a train
going the other way, each at different and variable speeds:
how many miles before something happens
that feels like answers when we write them down—
like solid paragraphs full of transitional phrases
and compound, complex sentences, the waiting space
between things that ends either in pleasure or pain. He
keeps showing up, dear boy, man now, and beautiful
like the northern forest, hardwoods iced over.
About this Poem
“I was thinking about synecdoche and the mathematics of meaning—how one thing can be something else, or a piece of it, and how this washes through a life. I wanted, also, to write a letter to the idea of leaving, and so this poem began to be what it is. What ends up being true, I think, is that meaning slips and slides; writing tries to catch it and hold it still.”—Kerrin McCadden
If you’re like me, you read this poem and though, “Huh?” Shes kind of all over the place, and it’s certainly a stream of consciousness. To be honest, this is how my mind sometimes works. I am thinking of one thing, and it leads me to think of something else. Then, that leads me to think of something else entirely different, and on and on it goes, which is why at any given time, there might be a dozen tabs open on my web browser. So that’s kind of how I see this poem. If you read McCadden’s description of the poem, I don’t think it makes any more sense that the poem did. Honestly, I had to look up the word synecdoche, which is a figure of speech in which a part of something stands for the whole (for example, “I’ve got wheels” for “I have a car,” or a description of a worker as a “hired hand”). It is related to metonymy, which I also had to look up. When a poet refers to something by one of its characteristics rather than its name – for example, referring to a country’s ‘strength’ rather than ‘armies’ – it is known as metonymy. It differs from synecdoche, in that these are abstract qualities rather than concrete parts.
I never taught synecdoche and metonymy when I taught poetry. Honestly, it would have been beyond my high school students, who were mostly football players. It was hard enough to get them to understand metaphors. I remember trying to teach them the meanings of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 (Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?). I decided to take them outside and use our surroundings to teach about the metaphors, such as “Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,” which is when I pointed up to the sun. Eventually, they got it. I never had the easiest time teaching those guys English Literature. I think we spent nine weeks on Macbeth alone. I always had fun teaching them Macbeth, because after we read the play and discussed it (and I got to read it using various voices, which they probably thought was silly), we would watch two movies: Scotland, PA and the version of Macbeth with Patrick Stewart. Scotland, PA was probably an inappropriate movie to show high school students because of some implied themes and language, but it’s basically a modernized version of Macbeth set in a McDonald’s style fast food joint called Macbeth’s. Christopher Walken plays Lieutenant McDuff. It’s a fun movie if you like Macbeth. (And yes, I realize this paragraph is basically my example of a stream of consciousness similar to how the poem above seems to be.)
About the Poet
Kerrin McCadden received an MFA from Warren Wilson College. She is the author of Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes (New Issues, 2014), which received the 2013 New Issues Poetry Prize as well as the 2015 Vermont Book Award. McCadden has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sustainable Arts Foundation, and the Vermont Arts Council, among others. She lives in Montpelier, Vermont.