“Tracks” by Matthew Murrey

Night Train by Gerrie Paino, train car deserted at night with stars in background

Image: “Night Train” by Gerrie Paino. “Tracks” was written by Matthew Murrey for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, April 2024, and selected as the Artist’s Choice. (PDF / JPG)


Matthew Murrey


after Tomas Tranströmer

It is the last night—
stars, moonlight, thin clouds—
and I am sad nothing
remains but the baggage car
where I packed myself
still crying and holding on
to my mother’s soft skirt
the second day of school,
where I stowed my sister and I
watching a black and white
movie on TV until our father
says “Turn that off.”
My first time seeing you
is in there, along with a pair
of shoes, a funeral, a bed
on the floor, and two horizons.
What a noon it was when
the whole train was on its way
across rivers and fields heading
toward mountains and the sea.
I was looking forward to far
more, but this will have to do:
bright moonlight, leafless trees,
stars forever out of reach.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
April 2024, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Gerrie Paino: “The evening I came upon the solitary train car that is the subject of my Ekphrastic Challenge photograph, I felt a sense of fascination and mystery. What stories would that deteriorating hulk tell, should it be given a voice? The opportunity to have so many talented poets share their answers was both a delight and a challenge, but, ultimately, I kept returning to ‘Tracks,’ as the one that felt absolutely right. ‘It is the last night,’ begins this poem, begging the question, ‘Last night for what?’ From that point on, we are offered deftly-rendered fragments of memory which include a ‘mother’s soft skirt’ being clutched by a child afraid to go to school, a gruff father, and, most striking to me, ‘… a pair / of shoes, a funeral, a bed / on the floor, and two horizons.’ The final stanza, with its sense of longing and resignation, seems to summarize everything that might be contained in that deteriorating behemoth as it crumbles, inexorably, beneath ‘stars forever out of reach.’”

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