As is sometime the case, I read a few stories that seemed to coalesce upon the same point, and as I sometimes do, mused on a particular thought, an image of someone I know sitting, waiting for a train, and so I thought it an intriguing image to write a poem. As is my habit when I write a poem like this, I will show the poem, and then give my own explanation of it from the point of view of the writer. Those who read it later on may find themselves with other thoughts and reflections that I do not mention as well. Like many poems, it is not arranged in a strictly logical fashion, nor is it seeking to make an argument; it is providing a series of sketches with a common theme, meant to evoke a certain mood and reflection on what brings the various stanzas together:
I remember it like it was yesterday,
And perhaps it was.
I came to the apartment building
Where my old girl lives
And went to her apartment
To celebrate my daughter’s birthday.
But something was wrong,
And the door was locked
When it was time to celebrate.
So I broke in to the apartment
And with a start, saw the flash of gunfire
And realized I was hit.
Now I’m sitting here waiting for the train.
Within these prison walls I sit
With nothing left to do
Having accomplished my life’s work
When I sent a murdering doctor
To his worthy fate of death
Only to find myself consigned here
Behind these walls and bars
Because the life of a murderer
Is worth more than the life of the thousands
Of unborn children he has slain
With his defiled hands,
So now I live and breathe
But I’m still waiting for the train
To take me home to glory.
I knew something was wrong
When those horsemen from the east
Had made their retreat
After we fought them by the Kalka
And lured us on for days
Before turning on us suddenly
And showing us that they were not defeated
But had lured us to destruction,
And surrounding us and attacking us for days.
And though my lord surrendered
Promised safe conduct for him and us
We were slaughtered like pigs straight away
So now I’m waiting for the train
Thanks to the folly of my lord.
They waited until we had halfway crossed the river
Approaching Richmond ahead
And then they fought like banshees
Charging and charging again.
I fought in the front lines of Carey’s brigade
As we fought of the traitors’ attack,
And I was founded in the fight
Before the graycoats fell back.
It seemed to happen slowly
As the day turned into night
That the light grew dimmer
Until it flickered out like a candle blown out.
So now I sit here among the pines
Waiting for the train to come at last.
I thought I saw someone I knew
As I sat down to wait.
She looked like a friend of mine,
But though I waved to her and greeted her
She did not recognize I was there
And her sad eyes stared into space
As if she did not recognize my presence at all.
And so although I felt uncomfortable
To be so rudely snubbed
I sat down beside her to wait as well,
For at least it is better to wait
With the chance of conversation
Than to wait all alone.
Why can’t she talk to me?
Why can’t she hear my voice?
Why am I waiting for this train at all?
Even more than most of my poetry, this is the sort of poem that requires context. The first four of the stanzas all are based on the quirk of being deaths on or around the same day, in different circumstances spread over the course of many years. The first stanza is about former NBA player Bryce Dejean-Jones, who was shot to death after he had broken into an apartment while trying to visit his ex-girlfriend to celebrate the first birthday of their daughter. The second stanza is about someone who is awaiting death, one anti-abortion activist named Scott Roeder, who on this day as I wrote this poem seven years ago killed one of the few American doctors who still practiced the butchery of late-term abortions, and who is in prison with a prison sentence that is likely contrary to legal guidelines. On the day I wrote this poem in 1223 as well the Mongol forces defeated a coalition of Kiev Rus and allied troops at the Battle of the Kalchik River, which was the first battle in what would eventually result in the Mongol conquest of Russia and the imposition of the Mongol yoke over Russia. In 1862 on the day I wrote this poem the battle of Fair Oaks/Seven Pines occurred, an inconclusive draw that led to the wounding of Gen. Joseph Johnston in his attempt to stop the Union conquest of Richmond, which led to General Robert E. Lee being named commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.
With this context, it is perhaps easy to see the meaning of these lines. It is said that all poems are about either love, time, or death, and this poem is about all three. All of the people discussed in this poem are pictured as being either dead or awaiting death and burial in the grave. Many of them found their fate because of love: the love of a child leading someone to enter the wrong apartment, the love of a liege lord or one’s country leading to death, the love of innocent life and the hatred of it being snuffed out, and the love of people even when there are barriers to communication, as I bemoan frequently in my own life . These poems are also all about time, as all of the people discussed are awaiting resurrection into the Kingdom of God, seeing as the dead know nothing and have no alertness as to what is going on around them, but await the judgment that is to come. To be sure, not every poet will share this assumption, but the train that all of them is waiting for, whether they know it or not, is the call to live and breathe and face their creator and be accountable for their deeds. Whether they will be facing the resurrection unto glory or the general resurrection is a question I leave open.
In many deaths there is an element of futility or treachery or the worst kind of luck. So it is with many of the deaths I discuss here. How many times does one go to the wrong apartment, and rather than, say, calling one’s ex-girlfriend to make sure one is at the right apartment, try to bang the door down, only to be gunned down by a person who, whether knowingly or not, takes seriously the biblical injunction that the thief has no blood ? What was it that led the basketball player to commit a fatal error rather than to communicate where he was? What is it that led Mstislav the Bold and his alliance of soldiers to attack a feigned retreat, leading to the slaughter of the soldiers of Kievan Rus and their eventual destruction as a nation? What was it that led George McClellan to lack the nerve to take Richmond after the draw at Seven Pines, surrendering the initiative altogether to Lee? These are questions that one can write essays about, or perhaps even books, but placed together in a poem, they suggest that the problems of the right amount of daring and the skill at communicating are ones that dog many people over the course of human history, and give us something to ponder even today, while reminding us that in such matters our lives are at stake.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: