Your Father on the Train of Ghosts

Your father steps on board the train of ghosts.
You watch him from the platform:

somehow, he doesn’t look as old
as you expected him to be.

You think this must have something to do
with the light, or maybe

how much bigger the train is.
It stretches down the track
a long way, as far as your eyes can make out.

It’s like a black bullet
that keeps speeding toward you,
you think, and then:

No, it’s like a very long train, that’s all.

Somewhere on board the train, your father
is choosing a seat. Maybe

he’s already found one, has settled in,

picked up a magazine or newspaper
someone else left lying there,

is flipping through it, idly.
Maybe he’s looking out the window, for you
you would like to think, waving,

only you’ll never see it
because of the reflected glare.

Or maybe he’s not looking for you at all.
Maybe he’s watching the hot-air balloons
that have just appeared

all over the sky, ribbed like airborne hearts
of the giants Jack killed.

In the stories, Jack has no father.
This would explain a lot, you are thinking

as the train begins to pull away:

his misplaced affections,
stealing the harp of gold that played
all by itself. Around you,

men and women and children
are standing on the platform, shouting, waving,
hugging themselves.
The wind is cold; it must be March.

You would want that kind of music
if you were Jack, wouldn’t you?

by G.C. Waldrep and John Gallaher

‘Your Father on the Train of Ghosts’ is copyright © G.C. Waldrep and John Gallaher, 2011. It is the title poem from Your Father on the Train of Ghosts, which was co-written by G.C. Waldrep and John Gallaher and published by BOA Editions in 2011.

Notes from BOA Editions:

G.C. Waldrep was born in the small town of South Boston, Va., in 1968, and currently lives in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.  He holds degrees in American history from Harvard and Duke and a MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa. He teaches at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, where he directs the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets. John Gallaher’s previous collections of poetry include The Little Book of Guesses (2007), winner of the Levis Poetry Prize, and Map of the Folded World (2009). His work has appeared in such journals as Field, Denver Quarterly, Ploughshares, New American Writing, Colorado Review, and The Kenyon Review, as well as in The Best American Poetry 2008. In 2010, he won the Boston Review poetry prize. He is currently co-editor of The Laurel Review, and, with Mary Biddinger, the Akron Series in Contemporary Poetics.

Your Father on the Train of Ghosts is one of the most extensive collaborations in American poetry. Over the course of a year, acclaimed poets G.C. Waldrep and John Gallaher wrote poems back and forth, sometimes once or twice a week, sometimes five or six a day. As the collaboration deepened, a third ‘voice’ emerged that neither poet can claim as solely their own. The poems of Your Father on the Train of Ghosts read as lyric snapshots of a culture we are all too familiar with, even as it slips from us: malls and supermarkets, museums and parades, toxic waste and cheesecakes, ghosts and fire, fathers and sons. Ultimately, these fables and confessions constitute a sort of gentle apocalypse, a user-friendly self-help manual for the end of time. You can find out more about Your Father on the Train of Ghosts by visiting BOA’s website here and hear John Gallaher read the poem here.

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