photo from pixabay.
Prague to Budapest, 1991 No deaths on this train, no mis-matched daggers, no lady vanishes—just grey grass seething in a landscape of factories, soot falling like rain. We toast each other on cheap Czech beer. Cheers to the Velvet Revolution. Cheers to us. Na zdraví. If this was a film I’d say I love you my friend, pour you out champagne. The American man doesn’t try to press a murder on us, instead chats us up, persuades an address swap, we hope to never hear from him again. The border guards act like movie stars, bark orders for passports along with their dog. He’s never known good boy, best boy, never been gifted a bone. And we trundle on, whispering, giggling, praying Jane is waiting at the station, hours ticking down to Budapest. Best not to know what’s ahead. If this was a film I’d defend you from future hurts, roll end credits on us laughing in a first-class carriage, zoom out to the train passing high summer pastures. Different Journeys I try not to think about those people, those lives lost to the Underground—a jumper, one under, passenger action. Did you know most held return tickets, season passes, thought they’d be home for TV and a glass of wine? Thought they’d make it through another down day, eat lunch on the Green Park seats, see the kids safe to bed. What if a train had swallowed me then like that lobsterman caught in the whale, what if I’d been the passenger taken unwell? The optimism of being children on the sand, waving to the London bound 8AM, our pincer claws held bright in salutation. The two of us poking at purple gobs of dead jellyfish, sifting through shells, searching for small lives on the beach— our heads alert for the far clamour of trains. The Old Railways Line Wounds sewn with yolk of tormentil, patched by grass, bandaged by wild rose. We wonder if its possible to walk to Ballachulish or beyond. The clatter of summer fills us - a rattle of cups from the café up the cut, flummox of foxgloved bees, vixen whiff from a knit of brambles. This path stands witness to human errors. How long to self-heal? To change an engine’s tick into a clock of green? Our lungs inhale soft air, ghosts. Not quite the midnight train... On the way to pick up timber far north from here stitching sleep with its whistle at 1a.m., I whisper its name— Concrete Bob. A kind of comfort, knowing a train still travels, slicing up the small hours. No postcards of this ordinary beast, no Flying Scotsman this, no steam rising like Puffing Billy in the Dandenong Ranges. Do you remember that day in the Australian winter? Me with my new tattoo, a butterfly shimmer. Both of us weary with heat and the cries of children. If I could have that day back I’d laugh more, board the train with wonder. Life passes, like an engine hurtling down the track, like a butterfly in its one glorious summer, like dreams in the night, a lonely whistle singing at 1a.m. Bio: Lynn Valentine lives on the Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands. She is working towards her debut poetry collection which will be published by Cinnamon Press in April 2022, after winning their Literature Award. She has a Scots language pamphlet ‘A Glimmer o Stars’ out with Hedgehog Poetry Press, after winning their dialect competition. She was one of five North poets commissioned by the Scottish Poetry Library in 2020 as part of their Champions project. She was recently awarded runner-up place in the Scots category of the Wigtown Poetry Prize.