The Boxcar

“Fear is useless
What is needed is trust” Mark 5: 36

“What’s that?” The patient asks
He is two beds down from me
The medicine the nurses administered
Had put him to sleep
He is waking up, disjointed
I can see what he sees
While disoriented
Staring out the large window
We all share in this hospital ward
Tall stone buildings to our left
The water to our right
Each floor a geometry of precision
And parallel windows
The horizontal is the longer side
Vertical in calculated proportion
All the frames are painted brown
A different logic than the lines
Of nature in the river
His life is no longer parallel with mine
We intersect now at this one word
“What are those boxcars doing there?”
He shows early signs of dementia
Confuses Rosetown with Saskatoon
Insists on getting out of bed himself
So quickly after his return
From surgery on his left hip
And risks another fall
“How can you tell which one
Is broken?”
“A senior nurse asked a student
On her apprenticeship
“The shorter leg
With the foot turned out”
I am training, too
He has taught me how to be poetic
I wish I’d thought of that
I can see the simile in what he said
“Windows like railway boxcars
One long line on top
Of another
Floor upon floor
All the way up the building
Silent, as if parked
On an abandoned branch line
At the outskirts of a prairie village
That will only survive
If the railway thrives
The occasional rhythmic clatter
In a sudden gust of wind”
John of St. Thomas gives a clue:
“It is in the mind
Where art resides”
This exclamation a projection
Of his internal state
Like the answer to a question
“What one word
Describes your life?”
The iconic picture of a boxcar
On the prairie landscape
From the decades he worked his farm
This patient is from my dad’s generation
But I know a boxcar when I see one
This obscure question
A puzzle for the nurses
Has become for me a symbol
And he doesn’t even realize
He wants us to know it
That distinctive association
With the great depression
Wide sliding doors on one side
For grain or cattle and freight from mines
And for men who rode the rails east
Three generations back in time
(Both he and I have been spared the memory
Of boxcars used for people
Deported to Majdanek or Siberia)
This hospital room
Is now our boxcar
Travelling east is good
The sunrise when the patient recovers
And the resurrection
When the train of one’s health
Follows the rails of a singularly Compelling logic
And comes to a complete stop
In a terminal that intersects
With eternity


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