Poem: The Ones We Cannot Save

The Ones We Cannot Save

The train car has sat in the same space for generations.
The windows, one by one, have broken loose,
some by fate, some by casual vandals.
The metal sides rust through the paint.
The door is locked by an ancient padlock.
Press hard on it and the hasp will come loose,
and you can go in.

The seats are gone. Repurposed? Stolen?
Nothing is left but bolt holes.
One light fixture remains, the chrome plate pitted.
Graffiti graces the walls. Some of it art,
Some of it anger and frustration.

These are the places you explore.
They draw you, the things we save,
the lies we tell ourselves of why we keep them,
why we cannot let them go,
why we let them fill space and rot
until they become hazards.

I have an attic of such things.
I have a head just as full. Clutter
fading slowly away, serving no purpose
except taking up space better used
for possibilities.

As you clamber through the train car,
you wonder what they were thinking.
Did they believe it was redeemable? Restorable?
A rat slithers out the far door. It is his home.
What were they thinking
or was this simply a graveyard, a place to abandon
with the least amount of mattering, the least
amount of disturbance to the landscape,
waiting for the weeds and wild grapes to claim it.

Even like this, you can see the possibilities.
What it once was and what it could be.
There is something in you that sees possibilities
even when sensible men know better, due perhaps
to a father who restored everything his hands touched,
except people. Due perhaps to your own abandonment
and restoration. You believe and see hope everywhere.

But you are also sensible. There is only so much of you.
You have learned the hard way the danger
of too much restoration, so often
that you abandon yourself. You learned the hard way.
You only have so many resources. This one you cannot help
so you take pictures, remembrances
of the ones you cannot save.

About this poem.

My dad was a great one for fixing things. A master at rebuilding and refinishing furniture. I don’t l know that I have his skills, but I do have his eye, and understanding of what needs to be done.

Even when there is not enough of me to do it.

I am in a place in life where I’d like to get rid of things. I am not as good at it as I would like, but that’s where my heart is.

The picture was taken in Bellows Falls, VT, where there is a train graveyard. A wonderful place to spend an afternoon.


PS: An audio reading of this poem is below”


  1. Isit me or do you start writing your Sunday sermons a few days ahead of time? I have a pastor nephew and a priest nephew and I will Never get a chance to ask either. Not a shame…really ; probably to intimate a question. I think of your inner conversations as a better response than I could expect from those who don’t know me and are too young and busy to care.

    • Ha! Sermons are an ongoing thing for me. I generally start with some scriptures that seem to fit the times we are in and the things people are going through and study them in depth, letting stuff that comes up during the week color them. It’s no wonder if some of them break through into poems now and again – it’s always on my mind, not in a “What can I tell people” way (I don’t work that way) as much as a “this is what I have learned this week” way. I don’t actually write the dang things till Saturday, giving life a chance to work on me.

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