THE FUNNEL


 


Not all funnels hold water
or slide vertically over the landscape
with an explosion of soil and debris;

Some funnels stay where they're built
in the middle of a stone-studded field
where trees are few and the land seems
peaceful,
at least when you aren't looking carefully....

I'd been an engine driver many years
back before the war,
and everything went quite smoothly.
True, you had your timetables,
just as you do now,
and the usual lines of passengers
holding their papers and briefcases
or pocketbooks as the case might be,
but no particular turmoil,
and no real sense of frenzy.

I never thought much about it,
I had a sandwich now and then,
with a soda or a small cup of coffee
in the mid-day, or the late-day, or the twilight.

In any case, I never saw it coming,
the change that came,
and the time that started to close in
ever more narrowly on my easy departures.

The cars changed, for one,
and I thought they were just herding sheep
in some bizarre new way
until I saw the passengers,
holding papers or pocketbooks
as the case might be,
but a lot else besides:
too much, I thought,
for a trip to Munich or Hamburg.

And the passengers had this fevered look,
a bustled look as the armed guys prodded
them forward with stony faces -
their lives seem to dangle before their eyes
like watch-fobs on a chain,
but no one could read what time it was,
not even me.

And of course the time had changed too,
and that, I guess, was the real point,
that their time had run out,
and there was not going to be another
trip to Munich or Hamburg,
no trip at all,
for the likes of them.

I took it all in stride, surely;
stoked the engine like I always had,
and peered far ahead to a hugely
distant horizon,
where I couldn't see approaches of
other engines,
like I always had,
and I couldn't see smoke
from anything,
till I came, at last, to the funnel.

You have to block out certain things
like the constant struggle of bodies
in the boxes behind you,
and the gasps and cries for water
as you sprawl there in the drivers seat
with your guilty cup of coffee
and your eyes on the horizon,
still looking for the smoke that
never seems to show until
you've reached the far horizon.

I can't remember when,
since maybe the smoke
still muddies my brain;
but when I first saw the funnel
it was like a megalith
I'd seen in pictures of Stonehenge, maybe,
out of a childhood schoolbook long
forgotten,
that you never thought could be real,
and wasn't real then.

Some primitive shrine
that kept steady track of the stars.
but no one came to worship here,
since no one knew where this was,
and everyone knew, without seeing
any maps,
that God could not dwell in
this totemic place.

The smoke went up like a dizzy plume
all the way to the clouds,
and it seemed like some kind of cyclone
that never went anywhere,
or extended a vengeful arm to the ground,
but continued its mission of death.

I saw many passengers that
never returned to the train,
who never bought a ticket to any
private target.
This funnel was poured from the public purse,
and secretly paid
by the lockjawed pockets of ignorance,
the daily routines of a million
lives who would never take this journey.

I carried it to a point, of course,
but you can't get used to everything,
no matter what they say;
and I finally stepped off the car one day
when I'd landed back in town,
since I thought, in a desperate distraction,
that taxi-driving would
get me away from all this,
despite the unsteady hours and the
crazy shifts in schedule.

I finally got the notion
that unsteadiness is the best thing
you can have in life,
when you're stuck on a
regular schedule
with a funnel for your goal,
and craziness is better
than the twisting of a train,
no matter what the hours.

But you can't get the memory
of smoke from your mind,
the smoke that follows you wherever
you go,
no matter what
car you're driving.

You can't get the memory
of screams from your head,
no matter what kind of passenger
hands you the fare.

I'm back on the main road now,
And I never thought I'd like
a car in a sea full of cars;
it's sure not as peaceful
as the funnel when the screaming stops:

but it's better than those side roads
where no one ever travels anymore;
better than a road
with a single destination.
 

- Paul Kesler

 
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