Marcy Erb, a poet/illustrator turned me on to a poem this morning:
In Memoriam John Coltrane
by Michael Stillman
“Listen to the coal
rolling, rolling through the cold,
steady rain, wheel on
wheel, listen to the
turning of the wheels this night
black as coal dust, steel
on steel, listen to
these cars carry coal, listen
to the coal train roll.”
Doesn’t it remind you of Margaret Wise Brown’s “Two Little Trains”?
Here’s an excerpt:
“The moon shone down on a gleaming track,
And the two little trains going West;
And they hurried along and heard the song
Of a black man singing in the West.
Look down, look down that long steel track
Where you and I must go;
That long steel track and strong cross bars,
Before we travel home.”
Aside from the variation in meter, I’m thinking you could insert Stillman’s poem into “Two Little Trains” and no one would be the wiser. They are so jazzy!
In “Two Little Trains,” the jazz rhythm that propels the trains and the reader forward is powerful. The string of slightly changing “O” sounds in “moon shone down on” and the internal rhyme of “along and heard the song,” and repetition of “look down, look down” strengthen the momentum. The religious imagery is also exceptionally strong. The reference to a “black man singing” brings to mind a spiritual. Then there’s the long steel track with a cross bar, the imperative “where you and I must go” (death), and the final comforting phrase “before we travel home” (also death, but not a bad place).
There’s a reason MWB is still in print, folks. She was brilliant!
If you’d like to see a brief analysis of Stillman’s poem, you can find it at Stephen Cramer’s Tongue & Groove blog.
Happy National Poetry Month!