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Canto the Third: Trains

Published onApr 17, 2023
Canto the Third: Trains

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
Martin Luther King1

…Cast caution to the winds
Now the storm is raging
And the trains storm over tangled tracks
Infernal toys
There are trains that never meet
Others just get lost
The stationmasters play chess
Shoot pool
Carom shots
The railway system is a new geometry…
Blaise Cendrars, “The Trans-Siberian”2

In Canto One of Byron’s Don Juan, the hero
Has a little fling with Julia and a
Scandal ensues. In George’s BeltLine poem there’s no
Such indignity -- unless you find a
Very public ‘bath’ in BeltLine crowds disgraceful,
Or Baudelaire’s great poetry obscene.
I think not, since the bath was metaphorical,
And the final goal, a poetic dream.

And so, still in early days of exploration,
George made plans to extend his BeltLine jaunt,
This time from Ponce City Market and the station
At Krog City Market, which will soon flaunt
A light rail, to complete Ryan Gravel’s
Optimistic vision. If Baudelaire
Was the inspiration to bathe on the gravel
Yesterday, then George needed some daring

Writer to guide his lofty thoughts today. There’s a Poet named Blaise Cendrars, who journeyed
In modern verse all the way to Siberia,
And with Sonia Delaunay surveyed
The landscape as it unfolded, from the perspective
Of a Russian train. Since light rail is on
George’s mind, and voter’s (!), we’ll be selective,
Combining scenes from Trans-Siberian

Travel with an Eastside trek that terminates
Not in Paris, as Cendrars’ poem does, but
At another Promised Land, the sacred birthplace
Of a King3. George packed up his bicycle, cut
Some fresh fruit for the trip, and placed it in
His paniers, amongst the maps and rhymes, his helmet
And a drink (or two). George knew his rhymin’
Was best when filled with a set

Of inspiring ideas taken from all the notes he’d keep
Along the way, which he’d later turn to rhyme.
Last night he’d gone back to Piedmont, rather than to sleep,
And found Reggae in the Park4, and spent some time.
Listening to the beats of Junior Reid,
Mumu Fresh, Afrobeats, 2Baba, and some
Reflections from AFRO CON to seed
New insights, and help advance his poem.

Today’s trip, along Hulsey’s Rail Yard, will then forge
On, towards Freedom Parkway bridge, and into
The great Fourth Ward. All this will help our George
To seek promises and hopes preserved through
Sweet Auburn, Historic Fourth Ward Park, the Skatepark,
The birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr.,
The Jimmy Carter Library and Museum, and mark
Thereby moments in our history, and stir

Greatness still to come. Unlike Byron, George did not
Mount a horse, but brought instead his electric
Bike, that he’d bought especially for the cause. He caught
A glimpse of himself, in his eclectic
Furs and silken-covered helmet, reflected through
Sunglasses of passers-by. He traveled
In style, and zipped along a trail, like a new
Light rail will someday do, another of Gravel’s

Master’s thesis dreams. He huffed and puffed,
And chugged along at a great pace
On pathways all around this so-called ‘City of
One Hundred Hills’, on its ‘emerald necklace’.
The multitude of murals were like ‘cut-ups’
Passing by, recalling what the viewer sees
In Dream Machines, which William S. Burroughs dreamed-up
To capture -- eyes closed -- the passage of trees

As seen by passengers on board trains. Beneath North
Highland Bridge lies cacophonies of colors
-- ‘All in Together’5 -- where Jenevieve Reid explores
Indigenous and ancestral cultures
Beneath a row of cars. Her artwork creates
Colorful meditation, sweeping by
The joggers, walkers, flaneurs, lovers, and our own
George, aided by electricity, flying

As fast as Blaise Cendrars Siberian train. He caught sight
Of great scenes, described on the artwork’s sides,
(Like Brooks’s ‘Large faces, eyes and friends, fun and bright)’6,
And realized that art stares back, like eyes
Atop the Edgewood bridge, then calls distraught
Voyagers to assess their own journey
That is their lives. Blaise Cendrars wrote about
Such things, while trav’ling ‘round by poetry,

And trains, from Siberia to Paris. He wrote
Too of those who can’t travel, even though
They need to flee. George thought of Cendrars, a ‘bad poet
Who wanted to go nowhere’, and yet could go
Anywhere: ‘I roll along with / Dream / And smoke / And
The only flame in the universe / Is
A poor thought…’.7 His poem stitched together nations,
As the BeltLine now connects neighborhoods,

For that’s the very point of art, sometimes, to create
Warmth from burning branches cut from ancient
Trees. By rendering the world in verse, poems satiate
Our need to heal. Cendrars’ poem describes it as a
Train’s ‘somersault’, that lands ‘on all fours /
The train lands on its wheels / The train always lands
On all its wheels’! George wondered when the will and force
Would help Atlanta’s rail to follow such a path and stand

As a sign that will bring the city’s trains to life:
‘And in the holes the dizzying wheels the mouths
The voices / And the dogs of misery that bark
At our heels / The Demons are unleashed’!
Peddling faster now, George bellowed with glee:
‘Scrap iron / Everything clanks / Slightly off
The clickety-clack of the wheels / Lurches / Jerks / We
Are a storm in the skull of a deaf man …..’!

Satisfied, George braked, as pastel-soaked graffiti
Wafted-by, backdrops to a trail that meets a
Beloved Community. Before him he could see
Mello Mushroom’s gift8. It wasn’t pizza --
But a slice of reimagined materials,
Like bolts and springs and wheels and wires and chains
All welded into one great being. It seemed an apt

Depiction of a BeltLine, built from trains’
Parts, gears, peoples, neighbors, tracks, and trails
All welded together, instead of torn
Apart, cordoned-off, or walled-in with wood and nails.
Fitting then that Rayshard Brooks RIP adorns
The pass beneath DeKalb Ave. ‘I’ll stay’,
He thought, ‘to pay profound respect’. He was forlorn,
For yet another parent, whose way home to play
With a waiting child, was shot and torn

From life. His objective now was not just poetry,
But healing, for he’d come to believe
That these trails help to convert Atlanta’s seas
Of tears to oceans of goodwill. Seeing
That such a space could inspire the change we want,
He drove on, descending to an under
Pass awakened and transformed to great walls of cant.
The graffiti whizzed by, as though it were

Unfolding before a summoning light, which traced
The end of the Krog Street tunnel. He
Was coming close to Sweet Auburn, and the birthplace
Of Martin Luther King, who in a speech
Had called for ‘all-embracing’, ‘unconditional love
For all men’, with ‘hope that this spirit
Will become the order of the day.’ The dove
Of peace, thought George, must replace the Molochs’

Who clamor for war. ‘We can no longer afford
To worship the god of hate’ or to ‘bow
Before the altar of retaliation’.9 Abhorred
Conflict means that ‘The oceans of history
Are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides
Of hate’. Love ‘unlocks the door which leads to
Ultimate reality’. With King’s Center for Non-
Violent Social Change10 nearby, and Blaise

Cendrars’ poem still resonating in George’s mind,
He turned to Hulsey Yard, now declining,
And transformed to public art, where flaneurs can find
Artists who have restored by designing
Public paintings. Here, on the Subcontinental
Divide, where waters flow to the Gulf of
Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean, Sentimental
George paused put on an orange glove

Which he waved to the King, and wept.

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