A Sister on the Tracks

By Donald Hall b. 1928 Donald Hall
Between pond and sheepbarn, by maples and watery birches,   
Rebecca paces a double line of rust
in a sandy trench, striding on black
creosoted eight-by-eights.
                                       In nineteen-forty-three,
wartrains skidded tanks,
airframes, dynamos, searchlights, and troops
to Montreal. She counted cars
from the stopped hayrack at the endless crossing:   
ninety-nine, one hundred; and her grandfather Ben’s   
voice shaking with rage and oratory told
how the mighty Boston and Maine
kept the Statehouse in its pocket.
                                                   Today Rebecca walks   
a line that vanishes, in solitude
bypassed by wars and commerce. She remembers the story   
of the bunting’d day her great-great-great-
grandmother watched the first train roll and smoke   
from Potter Place to Gale
with fireworks, cider, and speeches. Then the long rail   
drove west, buzzing and humming; the hive of rolling stock   
extended a thousand-car’d perspective
from Ohio to Oregon, where men who left stone farms   
rode rails toward gold.
                                  On this blue day she walks   
under a high jet’s glint of swooped aluminum pulling   
its feathery contrail westward. She sees ahead   
how the jet dies into junk, and highway wastes   
like railroad. Beside her the old creation retires,   
hayrack sunk like a rowboat
under its fields of hay. She closes her eyes
to glimpse the vertical track that rises
from the underworld of graves,
soul’s ascension connecting dead to unborn, rails   
that hum with a hymn of continual vanishing   
where tracks cross.
                            For she opens her eyes to read   
on a solitary gravestone next to the rails
the familiar names of Ruth and Matthew Bott, born   
in a Norfolk parish, who ventured
the immigrant’s passionate Exodus westward to labor   
on their own land. Here love builds
its mortal house, where today’s wind carries   
a double scent of heaven and cut hay.

Donald Hall, “A Sister on the Tracks” from Old and New Poems. Copyright © 1990 by Donald Hall. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: Old and New Poems (1990)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Donald Hall b. 1928

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Home Life, History & Politics, Youth, Travels & Journeys, Living, Relationships, Activities, Social Commentaries

 Donald  Hall

Biography

Considered one of the major American poets of his generation, Donald Hall’s poetry explores the longing for a more bucolic past and reflects the poet’s abiding reverence for nature. Although Hall gained early success with his first collection, Exiles and Marriages (1955), his more recent poetry is generally regarded as the best of his career. Often compared favorably with such writers as James Dickey, Robert Bly, and James . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Home Life, History & Politics, Youth, Travels & Journeys, Living, Relationships, Activities, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.