September 2022

Back to Issue 12

Long ago on a train

By Phil Brown


Long ago on a train

I said to the girl with the feather in her hair

“Do you never shut up?”

“Let’s talk all night,” she said

As the bush rushed past outside

And the waitress in the soiled uniform

Poured more strong tea

And my new friend Angelo, sitting nearby,

Pored over his tatty copy of The Horse’s Mouth

And he smiled as I raised my eyebrows.


Long ago on a train

I sat jotting in my notebook

Late into the night in that dingy dining carriage

With the tea stewing in the pot

And the waitress now slumped and snoring

And later, waking, asked

“Can you please go back to your seats?

I have to clean up here.”

And as we left, she said, under her breath

“For fuck’s sake I need some aspirin.”


Long ago on a train we wobbled through several carriages

Like sailors trying to find their sea legs

And found our seats again

And the girl with the feather in her hair

Said she was whacked and going to sleep

And, as she dozed, she muttered something

And when I asked her “What did you say?”

She replied “I’m sorry, I’m from New Zealand”

And I smiled and said “That’s okay”

But she was just talking in her sleep.


My new friend Angelo had fallen asleep too

And The Horse’s Mouth had fallen to the floor.

I took out my notebook again thinking

“I must write all this down”

As the train slowed and we passed through

A series of small, desperate towns,

With stations that stood empty and unkempt.

Someone behind us lit a joint

And smoked it right there in the cabin

As the darkness engulfed us again.



“You should put that out,” I said

So, he just got up and went to the toilet with it

trailing smoke behind him.

I re-read the poem I was writing in my moleskine notebook

Not quite realising the pretentious cliché

I was involved in.

My new friend Angelo was getting off soon he said

As he tried to shake himself awake

And he picked up The Horse’s Mouth

And got his bag and tapped me on the shoulder and said

“I’ll be seeing you kid”

Which sounded like a line from somewhere

And I said “You too Jack Kerouac”.


Long ago on a train

On a journey between two lives

I thought of Kerouac and dreamt of riding the rattlers

And living in the hobo jungles of his mind

And the girl with the feather in her hair slept on, muttering still.

When I woke, we were near old Sydney town

And the train was passing through red brick suburbs

And you could smell the city

And it smelt like cars and grit and looked like hell


All this was long ago,

Long ago on a train.