Long Ago

“Long Ago, Friday Night in Texas,” “A Train at Night,” and “Joy”

by Russell Willis

Long Ago, Friday Nights in Texas

Light explodes from darkening skies.

Not Sun,

Yet, light unleashing elemental forces.

The fragrance of recently mown grass

As would be remembered by a thoroughbred

Not so long ago a colt

Building muscle and endurance

Running like the wind through the grass just because

You were meant to run like the wind when you are a colt.

Cold seeps up from the turf

Capturing breath in small clouds.

Flesh trembles, not in fear, but

Chilled by expectation and by evening frost.

In that moment, Summer dies…

And not the imitation of Fall we know in Texas

Where leaves turn brown (maybe yellow) and fall to the ground,

But the Autumn of New England

In which colors erupt and the change of season

Does not merely mark time,

But defines it.

Self-induced pain of preparation

Excites the spirit

Providing a point of reference for what is to come;

Showing the other colts the stuff you are made of, and

Convincing yourself you are of that stuff.

Blaring horns.

Pulsating drums.

Murmur turned roar

Filling ears and hearts.

Rush and clash.

Exquisite pain and dull ache of

Real injury and perceived failure

Imagined glory and true courage

Victory and loss

Fading colors diminished by sweat, mud, and grass.

There are those whose colors remain pristine

Having not crossed from outside the lines

Yet also brothers, not yet baptized by sweat, mud or blood

Brothers nevertheless

Wearing the colors with pride

Ready and willing to share accomplishment and pain

Even though not blessed with the skill or luck or desire or genes

of those between the lines.

Embarrassed only if someone is cruel or thoughtless or neglectful

(As is too often the case when hormones or tradition are involved).

The same muffled explosion that heralded the brightness

Calls forth darkness.

But not nothingness.

Rather existence subdued

Whispered

Glanced, not fully viewed

Slowed by exhaustion

Warmed by effort, physical and emotional.

Joy, measured by relief. Or,

Disappointment, muted by the expectation of another day.

I am not asking you to laugh or cry;

That you think of this as silly or heroic….

But

…It did feel this way on Friday nights in Texas, long ago.

A Train at Night

Before you hear the whistle,

Your ear feels.

The rumble separates itself from ambient sound.

Mind recognizes “train” when the rumble changes pitch;

Locomotives struggle in tandem to pull upgrade,

Or stagger as consist plows forward.

Heart recognizes “train” when the whistle blows . . .

Such a sound . . .

The noise longing to be gone makes.

The noise wishing she was here makes.

The noise the past makes for those old enough to know trains.

The noise the unknown makes for those just coming to know trains.

Silence seems, at first, to follow the whistle.

But it is not true.

For what follows the whistle is what follows the power first felt by the ear.

The train’s heartbeat.

Constant.

Consistent.

Two beats,

A pause.

Two beats,

A pause.

Two beats,

A pause.

Two beats, two beats, two beats, two beats, two beats . . . .

A rhythm to rock a child to sleep.

A rhythm to whisper a song.

A reason to count the cars that pass.

A reason to forget what you were fretting about

Before your ear felt the coming train.

No matter the length of the train

This goes on and on—interrupted maybe once, maybe more – by a dying whistle,

To the point where your ear feels no more

But your mind and heart long for the pulse to never die away . . .

Love for the rocking child.

Echoes of that whispered song.

Fretting you forgot to do while a train passed in the night.

Joy

Elemental, essential.

Not merely the opposite of sadness.

Profound, deep happiness.

Peace, not the absence of violence, but the presence of well-being.

Connection with creation, and thus with the Creator, a shared experience.


Our souls thirst for joy like our bodies thirst for water.

Without water we cannot live.

Without joy it is too painful to love.

About the Author

Russell Willis

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After a professional career that began in engineering and moved to higher education and later online education and ministry, Russell Willis is an emerging poet. With a Ph.D. from Emory University in social ethics, much of his teaching and writing is focused on the role of technology in contemporary society and culture. His poetry has been published in The MOON magazine, Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing, Tiny Seed Literary Journal, Steady Hands: Ode to Our Fathers, Gratitudes: To Our Mothers, The Esthetic Apostle, and The Write Launch.