These two poems by Joanne Rush approach universal themes – love, ageing, and death – through the lens of surreal, dreamlike metaphors. Rooted in the natural world, they call attention to the spirituality of everyday experiences…
by: Joanne Rush
The Woman in the Train Window The woman in the train window Looks older at each stop. Crow’s feet creep round her eyes, And brown spots fox her cheeks, While outside the woods slide by In summer’s green, then autumn’s gold. The web page said ‘Single or return?’ But no-one comes home from this journey. The wheels are used to the route, The vents let in just enough air To get her there. And age sidles Up, polite as a ticket inspector. She is travelling alone. She is one of those who know That we are all alone at last, Which makes it true for her, Since solitude and company Exist mainly in the heart. Still, her bag holds a few regrets: A friend she didn’t mean to lose, A marriage that no longer fits Yet sparks off bright memories, And the hurtful shoes with red soles She cannot bear to throw away. She tries to say she is a slow starter, But time is a bad listener, Like a therapist with a cold, Sneezing into a handkerchief When she seeks to bare her soul. And perhaps dismay is premature? After all, she has sat beside herself A hundred times before, glancing up From the book she is reading, And squinting her eyes to see What she looks like asleep, then Opening them, to smile at the glass. But the trees’ skeletal leaves Are falling off the branches now, And the train has gone past the last house. It races to the lake as if the rails Go on forever, instead of ending In an infinity of dark.
Dogged On the cliff path a farm dog joins us, A black-and-white collie, Emerging from the fog With noiseless feet. You close a gate, And think you have won, Till he flows through a hole in the fence. Useless to consider running: He keeps pace with us like old grief. “Don’t feed him,” you say When we stop for lunch, “Or we’ll never get rid of him.” But I know he isn’t hungry – Not for what the two of us have. Another walker appears, And I am filled with dread. What if you ask, “Do you know this dog?” And he gives us a blank look? Then I would have to admit The fog-conjured thing To be myself.
Joanne Rush is an award-winning short story writer, an art critic, and a poet. Her work has been featured in anthologies such as Best British Stories and Ghost: 100 Stories to Read with the Lights On, and journals including Diet Milk and Northern Gravy. She lives in Wiltshire, England, where she is currently putting the final touches to her debut novel – a tale of art, identity, and secrets. Twitter: @jonicolarush