“People Get Ready” by Alan Shapiro

Alan Shapiro


I couldn’t tell you where the Lord was traveling,
only that I knew he was
by how the lightning
flashed under his footfall
the way a rail does under a wheel.
He was traveling on a rail of lightning
made entirely of souls,
and I was there
among them, I was one of them,
invisible, uncountable,
suspended moment in an endless line,
and when it was my turn
to flash awake
into my short existence
under the pressure of his heel,
I knew my anguish
was the very way he moved,
how he could get where he was going,
though what the purpose of his going was
I couldn’t see.
I saw relentlessness, not purpose.
I saw how he went, not where.
And as he passed I saw
he no more thought of me
than a train thinks
of the sparks scattering
under its iron weight,
bright, then dark.

from Rattle #25, Summer 2006
Tribute to the Best of Rattle


Alan Shapiro: “To me, the only thing that has kept me going through the years, as a writer, is that deep, private, self-forgetful joy that I feel when I’m working. When you sit down at the table and it’s eight o’clock in the morning and then you look up and it’s, God, it’s three o’clock in the afternoon. All that time has gone by as if in a single moment. And in that prolonged moment, you were completely given over to the task at hand, you were joyful, even if you were writing about how joyless your life has been. Because you had totally forgotten everything but the poem you were trying to make. This poem is an adaption of a dream quoted in William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience.” (web)

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