2010 Poetry Challenge

National Poetry Month

Peter Willowdown


Locomotive shuffling down the Northern Line
pulling blues and passengers out of the dirty city,
past the disused factories and broken-pigeoned
skylights of the post-war apocalypse
when Tate and Lyle were strong
and the shipyards were still open.
Past the ragged pram and bike-strewn canal
then locomotive takes a deep breath
and feels the ozone in his lungs,
whistling merrily and pumping his pistons,
he can smell the pine-forests and the sea!

As his rear carriages say farewell to the
Army training grounds with its artificial landscape
and bunkers where men can pretend at blowing themselves up,
he lets out a hiss of steam and calls to a party
of children at a level crossing, waving cheerfully
at him and then he opens his throttle,
the smoke and grime behind him,
pine woods and sand-dunes to his left,
and away in the distance, the pale blue line
of the Pennines like a sleepy hundred mile long snake
sprawled the length of the country.

A little local electric train passes him, heading south,
a rattling, jangling tin-can of a thing
full of cheerless commuters, stooped faces and shoulders
fully burdened with their grim life-sentences
and no time off for good behaviour.
Politically incorrect smoke pouring from his funnel
he bursts into song. The world is full
of metaphysical soot and grime:
a little of the real thing will do no harm;
in fact he swears he can even see a few tired faces
lighten up as he passes, remembering younger days
that chugged and raced along at a happier pace
when the sun and wind were always in one's face
and the world had no horizons.

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