Poem of the Week–Surprising Benediction

Surprising Benediction

We always heard the story,
how he rode the train
for four of his five
days of leave.
All the way
from San Antonio
to New York
and back.
It was World War II
and he wanted to see her.
For even one day.
The train. Changed so much

of history. Rails bringing
the circus or the camper,
the worker or the friend.
Connected by the hum
of the wheels.
Tasting time
in quick breaths
between stations,
the train
as certain as the heart.
Riders tucked in a berth
or a seat,
on a bench or alone.
How much do so many owe
to a train,
trailing puffs of steam,
screeching toward home?

by Janet Fagal
Central New York Branch


  1. Barb Whitmarsh says:


  2. A remarkable poem – if you lived through that era, traveled in wartime – it truly resonates. I wish I could have written it.

    • Janet Fagal says:

      Thank you, Sallie. I am honored by your praise and appreciation of my poem and that era. Since I grew up on Long Island the train was a small part of my life. I still like to take the train when I can, but it is different. I once took it from NYC to New Haven, Ct. and sat in the dining car with the white table cloths. Had a lovely little lunch with a nice young man I met on the train. I have been to Boston twice on the train and back and forth several times to NYC. I love business class for the peace and quiet and roomy seats with electricity for my computer. My how times have changed.

  3. Lois Batchelor Howard says:

    Janet, I found your poem intriguing and apt. My father was an engineer on The Lehigh Valley RR and then my older brother followed suit. Railroading was part of our growing up. If we knew which crossing Dad’s train would be at at what time, we’d go and wave and wave. It was like magic to us. Your poem says so much. What a part of history. Thanks so for sharing…and as a poem yet! Lois

    • Janet Fagal says:

      Thank you, Lois. Oh I can see how the poem resonates for you! I wish we still had easier access to trains. Some do. It’s not the same, but still I love to travel on them if I can. Glad I could bring this memory back to you. Thanks for your comment.

  4. I like ” the train/as certain as the heart” because it evokes the sound of the beating heart and the sound of the train beating on the tracks.

    • Janet Fagal says:

      Hi Jane,
      You know, when I would hear this story when I was young, I did not “get it”. That was a big deal for him. To come home with 4 days spent on a train to get one at home. My dad was quite the guy and he was devoted to my mom. They met and corresponded by letter for most of their courtship.

    • Every time I read this poem, and the comments, I see more — the heartbeat and the train sounds — well done, Janet.

  5. Dear Janet,
    I love your evocation of trains. How much we miss them! You do, I do, who else remembers their magic?
    I remember my dad taking me to the tracks and watching for their approach, the “hum”of the rails. I miss hearing them in the distance as they hooted and fling asleep to their sound passing. Thank you, Janet.
    ariel smart, passing passenger.

    • Janet Fagal says:

      Thank you Ariel. We can still hear the whistles a bit at my mom’s house on Long Island. I love having the peaceful time to ride and think and read and dream. It is a nice way to travel. Thanks for your lovely comments, both, about my poem. I appreciate the feedback.

  6. Sheila Byrnes says:

    Janet, I can hear and feel wheels of the train on the track as the service man goes home to visit his “girl.” A perfect poem for Veterans Day.

    • Janet Fagal says:

      Thank you, Sheila. I am glad you “heard” them. I was working on my linebreaks to try to get that feeling of the train in their. And it is a perfect poem. They were married on Oct. 15, 1945. They had 60 years together. He died one week after that anniversary 8 years ago. I still miss him, but have this video to watch on Youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8U4QjtRSJhw
      I found this on Veteran’s Day. I did not know it had been posted. It made me very happy. There is a sour note in the 4th song, but that was due to original VHS tape damage. I doubt he played a sour note in his life. He was a virtuoso.

  7. One of my favorite lines of this is “the train/ as certain as the heart.” Makes me nostalgic for a time when some things did feel certain–yet, underlying this poem is the sense of sacrifice by that generation, and the poignancy of “for even one day.” Things weren’t as “certain” as they seemed. Truly complex, and beautifully crafted. –Treanor, poetry editor

  8. Yes, so much of our collective and personal histories, and folklore is tied up with the train !
    Great poem.

    • Janet Fagal says:

      Thank you, Lisa. My husband is a train enthusiast. He knows a lot and loves to look at old maps especially in the NE region. He even went on a day long bus trip around Mass. and NY and Conn. to find old spots where the trains went. I wish there was more opportunity to experience this kind of travel. I appreciate your comment and praise for my poem.