Andrew Collard

US 40, Colorado

If I begin with the image of a train on fire,
a slowly-passing engine with wheels sparking
along the rail, and a second car engulfed,

begin with the shock of it, manifesting after midnight
beside a highway so remote we’d felt as though
our van had been suspended in a thought,

continue with the outline of a water-truck
matching pace, with the two shadowed figures
who scrambled along beside it, wielding hoses,

how best to keep the novelty of disaster
from insisting it become an omen, swallowing
the details of what follows, replacing them?

Suddenly, the landscape—trees thinning
along the road mid-day, becoming scrub, then rock—
speaks to some idea of wilderness, as though

it weren’t made of the same elements as the city
we’d left hours behind. Suddenly, the silence
haunting the cabin of the van can be mistaken

for the depth of solitude we’ll later find ourselves
enclosed in, distance festering between us.
Maybe the fire was never doused, and by daylight,

as wisps of smoke drifted from the wreck, the pair
of ragged workers were confronted, pressed for explanations
regarding why the freight cars had been lost, or worse,

maybe only one of them returned to tell the tale,
the other clipped, or dragged beneath the train.
What I know is that we drove two thousand miles,

nearly from the coast, to be there, bearing witness
to the way night fell above the far-off Rockies,
and to the eerie glow just beyond the highway

radiating, the only light to interrupt our grief
as, for twenty minutes, all that we could do
was wonder at that aberration in the stillness.



To My Son Henry, Asleep in the Next Room

Where the Lane Closed sign sits flashing night and day
before the window of a stranger’s house, this afternoon

we paused amid the smell of tar so you could watch the crews
repair the road, and as a Bobcat shoveled out excess soil

I supposed, to myself, whoever lived there must have adjusted
to the constant lights and rumbling like an eye does to a scratch

across a lens, to see around it. Maybe the sounds of work,
after awhile, become a kind of song to sleep by, like the ones

we sing at bedtime to muffle the passing cars, our too-loud
neighbors, or the imposed silence of evening. Tonight,

when our set-list of Beatles songs and lullabies ran dry, you asked
to talk some mo’, for me to tell you, again, about the time

I came across a train in flames in the desert night, every detail
witnessed from the window of my van, or about the highway

I used to drive in circles in your early days to calm you,
how I’d carry you gingerly through the doorway, up the stairs

and to your crib, then sit in the next room over listening
through the monitor, in case you cried out. Even now, as you

lie sleeping through the wall, in the same room where you once
sweated out a fever under blankets, and against my shirt,

where the rocking chair shrieks some nights beneath me
like a key against a fence, and other nights is soundless,

I’m astonished at how awake I have become, at just how much
I can recall: the sidewalk of your first steps, upended

by the roots of maples. How you held to both my hands
and tumbled forward step by wobbly step, delighted in your own

ability to make great lengths of pavement disappear beneath you.
The way your eyes would drift, as we walked along the street,

toward the treetops, lost to the spell of the twisting branches,
and the way you reached out your hand as if to grasp them.



Andrew Collard lives in Kalamazoo, MI, where he attends grad school and teaches. His poems can be found in Ploughshares, Sixth Finch, and The Offing, among other journals.