Mar. 5, 2003

Detail Waiting for a Train

by Stanley Plumly

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Detail Waiting for a Train," by Stanley Plumly from The Marriage in the Trees (Ecco Press).

Detail Waiting for a Train

The main floor of Penn Station, early,
the first commuters arriving, leaving,
the man outstretched on his coat,
wide circles of survivors forming.

He's half in, half out of his clothes,
being kissed and cardio-shocked,
though he was likely dead before he landed.

This goes on for minutes, minutes more,
until the medics unhook the vanished heart,
move him onto the cot and cover him
with the snow-depth of a sheet

and wheel him the fluorescent length
of the hall through gray freight doors
that open on their own and close at will.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist and poet Leslie Marmon Silko, born in Albuquerque, New Mexico (1948). Silko was raised on a Pueblo Reservation in the Laguna tradition. Her community was made up matrilineal families, where women own the houses and the fields, and are the authority figures, and men do much of the child rearing. Silko once said, "I grew up with women who were really strong, women with a great deal of power. If someone was going to thwart you or frighten you, it would tend to be a woman. Your dad is the one who's the soft touch." Her first major success came in 1977, with her novel Ceremony (1977). It is the story of Tayo, a former World War II prisoner of war, who returns to his Laguna Pueblo reservation, where he listens to the ancient stories of his people. In it, Silko wrote, "I will tell you something about stories/[he said]/They aren't just entertainment./Don't be fooled./They are all we have, you see,/all we have to fight off illness and death./You don't have anything/if you don't have the stories."

It's the anniversary of the 1933 election that gave the Nazis and their Nationalist allies 52 percent of the seats in the German parliament (or Reichstag); the last free election in Germany until after World War II. Just five days after the election, Victor Klemperer, a Jewish professor of romantic languages living in Germany, wrote in his diary: "Since then day after day commissioners appointed, provincial governments trampled underfoot, flags raised, buildings taken over, people shot, newspapers banned, etc., etc…A complete revolution and party dictatorship. And all opposing forces as if vanished from the earth…No one dares say anything anymore, everyone is afraid."

On the same day in 1933, across the Atlantic from Germany, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered a four-day bank holiday in an effort to curtail the devastating "bank runs" of the Great Depression when panicky investors withdrew their money from the banks. The bank holiday seemed to settle things down in this country.

On this day in 1953, Josef Stalin died in Moscow. Before his death, Stalin's behavior had been growing more and more bizarre. He studied lists of his government officials and put question marks next to the names of those he planned to execute. He filled up the jails with men to be put on trial. Then, on March 1st, he was found unconscious on the floor of his room. His guards were too terrified to do anything when they found him, because it had been so long since they'd acted without his orders. They left him lying on his floor for thirteen hours. When the doctors finally arrived, they were trembling with fear at the thought of doing something wrong. The doctor who removed his false teeth was shaking so much he dropped the teeth on the ground. They eventually determined that he had suffered a brain hemorrhage. He died four days later.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show