There was a nursery rhyme gallop of a nearby train.
Dum, diddle-um, racing to be on time.
In her head, time stopped, then turned
to walk in its own shadow. Back, way back,
to Ride a Cock Horse , that children’s song,
when the house was a place of smells and noise.
And she thought about it, as the memories turned,
what did it all mean? As the sound of the train
faded, it was replaced by that song
playing on her rusty lips for the first time
in many years. These days quiet was the only noise
filling the air, bouncing in the void, whispering back.
She stared at the carpet, caught in time,
half-expecting to see the worn nubs of wool peel back
and reveal an answer to it all. A eureka of noise
that would explain why the world still turned,
how the whistling wind could sound like a song,
what was this emotion provoked by the train?
Her husband stirred a spoon forward and back
in his teacup. The flash of silver and clinking noise
brought her eyes up, and she watched as he turned
the spoon to his mouth, humming a favourite song.
Chuffing to a forgotten halt, the slow train.
Their clapper tolling an older time.
From the window-ledge came a mellowing song.
An orange beak tapped at the pane and she turned
to look. A white-ringed eye stared back.
A Turdus Merula, her calendar said. At this time
the first brood may be ready to train
for flight, swelling the chorus of Spring’s noise.
A gentle cough, a familiar noise.
Her husband creaked, with a stooping back,
lifting slowly from his chair, knees turned
in and elbows out. The clock chimed Time.
He tapped his watch. No commuter train
to catch, but habits answer the cuckoo’s song.
She rocked gently, mouthing the nursery song,
as his tremulous hand lay on her back,
and together they endured the passing of time.
I was re-reading some of Elizabeth Bishop's poems recently and thought I would play with a sestina. As the stanzas progressed it became more challenging to maintain the line endings with my chosen words. But then, nothing is worth doing unless it stretches us in some way...