On a Moscow Train

from Prospects of Leningrad

A round of laughter down the corridor holds
a jam of students as we gather speed to clatter
towards darkness and the distant suburbs.
A massive locomotive crawls in a siding
as we pass. Monumental, heroic,
it is a barely moving block
of painted steel and unheard purpose.
Away from the centre, Leningrad dims
to street lights, and the muffled glow
of blocked and distant high-rise windows.

The samovar enshrined in the corridor
tangs the air with a delicate charcoal pungency.
The young attendant, black haired and humorous,
brings tea in rough edged glasses and silver holders.
“It’s Georgian,” he jokes. “Strong enough to make
your moustaches grow.” The smiling face of
Stalin conjured fades with the sweetness of
the tea we sip, and curtained Russia passes.
Sleep seals our train of citizens and tourists, and
holds, once more, dreams of Moscows of the morning.

Day brings birch forests and half hidden dachas,
the city of palaces and revolutions
and wide angled rivers is hours in the west.
Last night’s laughter stays asleep in its bunks –
its owners stir singly, and, clutching toilet bags,
go quietly past cabins in the grey blue light
for the morning’s morning water rituals.

The train touches the city on its lips.
Those most awake stand like visionaries
at windows, agape to have the new anatomised:
tall apartments standing, square faced and naked,
out of the open, end of winter ground;
paths passing silvered trees to litterless stations,
where people aroused to work, wait or talk,
unheedful of our expressed, passing interest.
Invisible, powerless to them,
we hardly exist. As if the gods of atheism,
we are allowed to be all seeing.

Then come the enterprises of every city:
the factories and workshops, long buildings
that contain their functions in fluorescent halls
behind their grime sheathed windows. The train slows
to its purpose, draws to a sharp, unsteadying stop.
Cases in hand, we stride the gap between
carriage and city, and then stand about
with luggage and each other in the chilly
sun. A station sign says three degrees,
much higher than it feels and we take it
as a gift of welcome, a metaphor
which means the place is warmer than its airs.

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