Last Train Out Of Montmorenci Falls


It left the depot relatively unencumbered;

The passenger service having been discontinued the winter before,

So the engine and the few sad cars pulled out

Containing no more than a few sacks of mail and an antique air compressor

Headed down to Dubois for either repair or euthanasia.

In truth, you couldn’t blame the PRR folks;

The branch line hadn’t been profitable for decades, if ever at all,

The business of business being business and all that.

That said, the perfect reasonableness of the events which transpired

Did not make them any more palatable.

Mind you, it was not just mere nostalgia

Which accompanied the engine’s farewell trip:

Oh, there was a full complement of that,

For there was no telling how many folks

Had waited, ostensibly patiently, at trackside

For a new suit or bridal gown from Kaufman’s or Horne’s

Shipped all the way from Pittsburgh,

Or had waited, in tears one way or the other,

For a loved one coming home from one of the wars,

Stepping onto the platform all smiles, medals all but on fire in the sunlight,

Or carried off, flag-draped and cherry-lidded,

(The band playing in the tempo the particular case called for)

And the oldest of the old-timers still talked about the fateful day

When Tiger Joe Margiotti, Elk County born and bred,

Stood on the platform, the entire town there,

Cheering as one as they would never cheer again,

Waving farewell as he headed to Pittsburgh

To hear from Boss Lawrence the words we all knew would be said:

That he was too Italian, too Catholic, too rural

To receive benediction for the pursuit of statewide office,

And it wasn’t that you still couldn’t flag down the Trailways bus

Which ambled into town twice a day except Sundays,

Stopping at the jerry-built plywood shelter in front of the defunct Rexall

(Ostensibly a temporary measure, but there three years now.)

No, it was something more than that,

Intangible and yet portentous and awful,

For we had always suspected (and, deep down,

Known it to be as factual and true as our own names)

That though we had thrown rice and confetti at our successes

And wept or swore under our breaths at our failures

No differently than folks in Erie or Johnstown or Pittsburgh

Or, if we allowed ourselves the odd flight of fancy,

New York, London, or Beijing,

Our shortfall of tall buildings and traffic lights

Underscored the notion that our laughter, our cries,

Our dids and didn’ts were lesser things, of no real importance,

And the train’s final departure,

It’s chugging labored and funereal, was the final sentence

In an obituary that had been written over an extended period of time

(The death itself a lingering, discomfiting affair,

Drawn out and piecemeal, like our fathers and uncles

Losing a finger here, a pinkie there

In the roller or pulp dryer back before the mills closed down),

Leaving us nothing but a pair of rails

Narrowing together like some middle schooler’s perspective drawing

Into a point in some faraway and unseen nothingness.







6 thoughts on “Last Train Out Of Montmorenci Falls

  1. You capture the idea of “place” so very well, as well as the underlying futility that engulfs most peoples’ lives, however well-intentioned. The ancient Greeks would relate very well to your portrayal of the role of fate, and how there’s no getting around it, merely acceptance (if one is wise.)
    Excellent work.

  2. The words charge along the tracks of your poem like that last train out of Montmorenci Falls, with a wisp of nostalgia floating from its engine and drifting back like smoke.

  3. The Arlo Guthrie fan in me cannot help but think of this as a companion piece to “City of New Orleans,” but it stands well on it’s own. You have captured a fascination with our history through machine, through steam, and through steal. I like how you suppose many journeys (the ends, the false starts) and how you etch out what I can only describe as how rockwell wanted to paint but could not.

    Bravo in particular to my favorite parts (the limbs sacrificed to the factory) and that stellar last line, taking all the heritage, all the story, all the richness established and comparing it to a junior high perspective drawing. You commentary is sharp but never intrusive. Viva la

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