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D. A. Powell
D. A. Powell

Passing Through

About this Poem 

“‘Passing Through’ was written on a train but not as part of any kind of residency on a train. It was a short train. It helps if you’ve seen the movie Picnic but hopefully that doesn’t matter.”
D. A. Powell

Passing Through

D. A. Powell, 1963

Watching Picnic again for the
umpteenth time. We need
more trains. The tin-roofed stations in
red brick or the grand multi-track
white terminals. Someone left
me by train once, tearily, and
I never should have let his
jive ass back in to collect his things
that were stashed in Patty’s room.
Patty’s room is the closet. He was
a closet case. He was a cliché.
He left by train but the train
was a bus. Mysteries unfold
on trains. Strangers disembark
often enough to disrupt your day.

My chief fear on trains is not
murder nor stumbling into the wrong
berth. There is no wrong berth.
My fear is that I’ll have to ride
backward into memory. I hate memory.
My first train memory is the circus
puffing by on its way to winter
in Florida. Ever after I stood at
the porch and watched the L &N,
hoping for giraffes. There are no
giraffes in most circuses, so I was
obviously a forlorn child. Lonesome
whistle. Did Hank Williams wake
to the crossing guard blinking its red
light across his face at night
through a window he hoped someday
to climb out. Trains are sad as
elephants. Lumbering along. Or
pulling down tents.

Can’t blame Kim Novak for wanting
to run off with William Holden,
especially after seeing him with his
shirt off, dancing under the pink
and green Chinese lanterns,
him moving in—I too would hold on.
Even though I’m sure it’s wrong for Kim.
It’s wrong for him. Where do people
who are wrong for each other meet
but in the movies or on trains.
Best to meet a man who’s moving.
Passing through. Let him ruin
your weekend but not your life.
That’s what weekends are for.

Copyright © 2014 by D. A. Powell. Used with permission of the author.

Copyright © 2014 by D. A. Powell. Used with permission of the author.

collection

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

collection

Poets in Conversation

In this collection of conversations, poets talk with one another about what inspires them most about the art form.

poem

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
Langston Hughes
1994
collection

On the Poetic Line

The poetic line is one of the most emphasized elements of form, the structural division of verse that can indicate patterns in meter, rhythm, and rhyme and influence the aesthetics and emphases of the poem. Examinations and discussions of the line abound, and we hope this collection, featuring books and essays by a variety of writers, provides a context for the use of the line in the history of poetic craft. 

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Mark Strand,  William Stafford, and David Wagoner, 1984.
collection

We the Poets

To celebrate American Archives Month in October we collaborated with the National Archives on We the Poets, a project for which we commissioned poets to write original works based on the archives’ holdings. The National Archives filmed the poets reading their poems at the headquarters in Washington, D.C. To read more about the project and to view related photographs and documents from the National Archives, visit the Prologue: Pieces of History blog.

collection

Galway Kinnell: A Tribute

Galway Kinnell, a former Academy of American Poets Chancellor and 2010 Wallace Stevens Award winner, passed away at eighty-seven years old at his home in Sheffield, Vermont, on October 28, 2014. Liz Rosenberg, writing in the Boston Globe, noted that "Kinnell is a poet of the rarest ability, the kind who comes once or twice in a generation, who can flesh out music, raise the spirits and break the heart." He will be missed.

poem

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas
1937
poem

The Past

Small light in the sky appearing
suddenly between
two pine boughs, their fine needles

now etched onto the radiant surface
and above this
high, feathery heaven—

Smell the air. That is the smell of the white pine,
most intense when the wind blows through it
and the sound it makes equally strange,
like the sound of the wind in a movie—

Shadows moving. The ropes
making the sound they make. What you hear now
will be the sound of the nightingale, Chordata,
the male bird courting the female—

The ropes shift. The hammock
sways in the wind, tied
firmly between two pine trees.

Smell the air. That is the smell of the white pine.

It is my mother’s voice you hear
or is it only the sound the trees make
when the air passes through them

because what sound would it make,
passing through nothing?
 

Louise Glück
2014
poem

The Coming of Light

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light. 
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves, 
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows, 
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine 
and tomorrow's dust flares into breath.
Mark Strand
2002