To get to the top of the tree,
First take the brown line:
Ride plush seeds over debris,
In xylem and phloem recline.
They’re trunk lines of old-fashioned parlance;
Parlor cars left tufts of velvet and brass
In yards, entanglements, and car shunts
On embankments of gravel and grass.
Now the stately engine mounts the incline,
And rolls in majesty over a ravine,
Emerging then to overlook the green
That marks the coronation of the syncline.
But warning signs at blind curves repeat,
The journal bearings weaken from friction,
The journal entries weaken from fiction
In unanticipated heat.
Are we lost? Do we hold a true heading?
Darkness hangs at the end of the branch;
How well do roadbeds, berths, and bedding
Hold out against calamity and chance?
The chance that there are only halts, not harbors,
Only dead reckoning and reckoning of the dead;
Man fell, yes, but in the fall, glow red
The coal of tenders, timberlines, and arbors.
NOTES for Students of English
Xylem and phloem – The hard and soft wood fibers under the bark.
Trunk Line – A main long-distance line.
Shunt – To move train cars from one rail to another.
Syncline – Stratified rock in which the layers bend to form a u-shape.
Journal Bearing – The support of the end of a wheel axle.
True Heading – In navigation, the direction in which a vessel or vehicle is pointed, expressed with reference to the earth’s axis rather than magnetic poles, as in “true north.”
Dead Reckoning – In navigation, calculating one’s position based on previous positions without astronomical observations.
Tender – A rail car containing water and fuel — wood, coal, or oil — for a steam locomotive.