Love Poem in Coal


Love Poem in Coal

You cannot recall how often you have walked these tracks.
To one side, the James River flows over the jumble
of rocks that are the fault line. To the other,
a bramble and tangle of vines and overgrowth.
and here in the center, a well-ordered, well-maintained
set of rails and crossties. you have walked them often

and long, for miles and miles in either direction,
walked until your legs ached and forcing yourself
to turn around and return home. For all practical purposes,
there is no end to them. Not for an old man with old legs
and a young sense of wanderlust.

At night, the trains rumble past. In your room
you can hear them, feel them in your bones.
In winter, when there are no leaves on the trees,
you look down and see them, their weeks sparking,
steel against steel.

Most of them carry coal, and in the mornings,
you can pick up the flotsam, big chunks of black stone
fallen from the open cars. There is enough
to build bonfires in the night, more than enough.
You have done it often.
The coal is slow to light, but burns hot and long,
like perfect love. Worth the time and effort.
Worth the wait.

About this poem. 

The picture was taken in Richmond, Virginia, near my sister’s house. It really does run along side the James River.

When I was a boy scout many many years ago, I got in trouble for using coal picked up from the edge of the train tracks in Goochland country to start my fire instead of the book regulation dried wood from the forest. My fire burnt hotter and longer than any fire in the camp, but I had not followed the rules. In time, my propensity to not follow the rules had them asking me to leave. I left quietly.

I am almost three years into my second marriage. It’s been a miracle.

From all that, this poem.



  1. I live in West Virginia (transplant from California) so I’m keenly aware of the importance of coal (both physically and metaphorically) to this region. I adore what you’ve captured here. The grittiness, the train tracks. The second chances. Such an incredible landscape.

    • What a culture shift from California to West Virginia. I lived in the mountains of Virginia for many years. That whole landscape is very, very familiar to me, even now, ten years later in Vermont. Thank you for your kind words.

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