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Charmi Keranen

Train Language

In the summer, as soon as the nights are warm, we crank open the bedroom windows and listen to the trains. In the winter, when the furnace is quiet, we hear the braying whistles and sometimes the rumble as they pass by, but in the summer with the windows cranked wide we can hear the trains being hooked together. The brakes screech and whine and then there is a loud clunk and another loud clunk and finally a groan. This goes on all night long in the background of our lives. After the first couple of days we don't notice them anymore. The trains rumble past, get hooked together, unhooked, they clunk and screech. They pulse under the surface. But on those first nights of summer the sounds of the trains penetrate everything we do. We hear the trains rumbling and groaning when we're making love, until the point where we hear nothing at all. When we slide back to earth again the train is still rumbling by. Or sometimes a new train is blowing its whistle and that makes us laugh. Does the train know? We wonder how people make love without the undercurrent of the trains.

The trains are a seductive challenge. Sometimes the undercurrent pulls the uninitiated in. They can't resist getting too close. The raw force of the trains mocks them. One of my nephews, when he was around 13-years-old, rolled under a slow train as it was ambling by. He came out again on the other side, drenched with sweat. He has abandoned the trains now. I wonder if they still permeate his dreams. I have stood under the trains myself where the tracks cross the Baugo Creek. There is an old train trestle there, hanging 40 feet above the muddy water, and you can stand right under the train as it passes overhead. The trestle shakes under the weight of the train, but the sound is what totally engulfs you. If the whistle happens to blow while you're standing beneath it your body will shake and your ears will ring for an hour. My dogs have better sense than I do. They don't stop there and wait to be consumed. They hurry down the path and dive into the creek, a safe distance from the sound. I follow them and wade into the creek and watch the train. Silver minnows scatter in all directions. The whistle moans and fades as the train ambles on. We forget about it and start chasing the minnows.

Another nephew, who grew up away from the trains, visits and wonders at all the musical people that surround our house. On our street alone there are four good musicians, the kind that keep time in a pocket and get paid to do what they love. I don't know if they got their rhythm from the trains, but I'm suspicious. In the summer they sit on the back porch with Cokes and beer and jam together. I don't think they notice the trains whistle and creak as they go by. In the winter they jam inside, away from the trains, late into the night. The musicians' rhythms take over the house, but still there is the undercurrent of the trains pulsing away. We shut the bedroom door and let all the sounds drift away until the summer comes again and we can crank the windows wide.

©2008 by Charmi Keranen

Charmi Keranen lives and writes in Northern Indiana, where she attends Indiana University South Bend and moderates a lively writers' workshop group. She will receive a BA in English in May 2008.

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