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Trees and Other Poems

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The Twelve-Forty-Five (For Edward J. Wheeler) Within the Jersey City shedThe engine coughs and shakes its head,The smoke, a plume of red and white,Waves madly in the face of night.And now the grave incurious starsGleam on the groaning hurrying cars.Against the kind and awful reignOf darkness, this our angry train,A noisy little rebel, poutsIts brief defiance, flames and shouts —And passes on, and leaves no trace.For darkness holds its ancient place,Serene and absolute, the kingUnchanged, of every living thing.The houses lie obscure and stillIn Rutherford and Carlton Hill.Our lamps intensify the darkOf slumbering Passaic Park.And quiet holds the weary feetThat daily tramp through Prospect Street.What though we clang and clank and roarThrough all Passaic's streets? No doorWill open, not an eye will seeWho this loud vagabond may be.Upon my crimson cushioned seat,In manufactured light and heat,I feel unnatural and mean.Outside the towns are cool and clean;Curtained awhile from sound and sightThey take God's gracious gift of night.The stars are watchful over them.On Clifton as on BethlehemThe angels, leaning down the sky,Shed peace and gentle dreams. And I —I ride, I blasphemously rideThrough all the silent countryside.The engine's shriek, the headlight's glare,Pollute the still nocturnal air.The cottages of Lake View sighAnd sleeping, frown as we pass by.Why, even strident PatersonRests quietly as any nun.Her foolish warring children keepThe grateful armistice of sleep.For what tremendous errand's sakeAre we so blatantly awake?What precious secret is our freight?What king must be abroad so late?Perhaps Death roams the hills to-nightAnd we rush forth to give him fight.Or else, perhaps, we speed his wayTo some remote unthinking prey.Perhaps a woman writhes in painAnd listens — listens for the train!The train, that like an angel sings,The train, with healing on its wings.Now "Hawthorne!" the conductor cries.My neighbor starts and rubs his eyes.He hurries yawning through the carAnd steps out where the houses are.This is the reason of our quest!Not wantonly we break the restOf town and village, nor do weLightly profane night's sanctity.What Love commands the train fulfills,And beautiful upon the hillsAre these our feet of burnished steel.Subtly and certainly I feelThat Glen Rock welcomes us to herAnd silent Ridgewood seems to stirAnd smile, because she knows the trainHas brought her children back again.We carry people home — and soGod speeds us, wheresoe'er we go.Hohokus, Waldwick, AllendaleLift sleepy heads to give us hail.In Ramsey, Mahwah, Suffern standHouses that wistfully demandA father — son — some human thingThat this, the midnight train, may bring.The trains that travel in the dayThey hurry folks to work or play.The midnight train is slow and oldBut of it let this thing be told,To its high honor be it saidIt carries people home to bed.My cottage lamp shines white and clear....