Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Train Sounds

Last night, I fell asleep to the sound of a train in the distance. With the rumble of the engine and the mournful song of the horn came a flood of memories. For much of my life, I lived in the proximity of train tracks and I was surprised by how its sounds returned memories to me.

When I was a child living in California, my house was only a block away from a track. Several times during the day, the windows and doors in our house rattled as the trains passed. I remember walking along the tracks, imagining where they would lead me if I kept walking. When I felt the ground rumble with an approaching train, my heart quickened with anticipation for the frightening energy of what approached.

And for more than 25 years, I lived within hearing range of a train that passed by our neighborhood several times a day. Often, as I lay in bed at night, I would listen for the train. Sometimes it came as a lullaby, soothing me to sleep with its deep rumble. Sometimes it was a soundtrack to my dreams, taking me to far away places. Sometimes it serenaded my loneliness.

Last weekend, my poem , "Sayonara," won second place at Ozark Creative Writers Conference. It is in the Tanka form, (Five lines, not to exceed 31 syllables) which is a form of Japanese poetry similar to Haiku (Three lines, 5-7-5 syllables):

Comes a sudden storm,
Words crash like thunder
But silence rings louder.
A train whistles far away,
I hug my pillow closer.

Does the sound of a train return memories to you? Are there other sounds that bring forth recollections of the past?


  1. There isn't a single sound that evokes certain memories for me - but songs cause me to be flooded by memories at times.

    However, when I read your post chills ran down my spine. Last night I couldn't sleep because all I could hear was trains, just as if they were no more than 100 feet from my window - complete with the periodic whistle blow. I could have very well been having a waking dream but, it doesn't negate the eerie factor... it's still making me nervous and it's hours later! Then I come online and I see your post about train sounds...

  2. I'd never heard of the Tanka form. Interesting that constraints, lines, syllables, focus the impact of a poem.

  3. Loved your poem, Jan. I'd never heard of that form, but I like it.

    The sound of a rooster crowing brings back memories of being a young girl sleeping over at my mawmaw's house. Mawmaw and pawpaw always got up before the crack of dawn and sometimes I'd lie awake in bed listening to the sound of coffee percolating on the stovetop and the french radio on a scratch AM channel. But the first sound I'd hear on the cool mornings would be mawmaw lighting the gas heater.

    Thanks for that little trip down memory lane :)

    Also I think I've learned how to trick your blogger comment gremlin. I put in nonsense on the visual verification (because it rarely shows me the word) and then it gives a new word that I *can* see.

  4. @MarieBorthwick - Songs flood me with memories, too. That IS eerie about how you heard trains last night and then I posted about them . . . oooooh!

  5. @ed_quixote - I'm surprised you hadn't heard of the tanka form. You should give satire a try in that form. :)

  6. @madisonwoods - your memories of your mawmaw's house sound like mine. I wrote a story once, called "Morning Glories" that describes those memories. Thanks for your comment!

  7. My brother loves trains so when I hear of one I think of him.
    The sound of a whipporwill brings fond memories flooding back to me. You would think I would hear them all the time where I live because of the forest around me, but nope, I have never heard one here. I did here them in Branson outside of BoxCar Willies when attending OWL.

  8. Whoo Hooooo! I think I've found and corrected my problem with trying to post comments--now I can follow AND post.:-)

    We used to live near train tracks and my kiddoes would dash out the door and across the field to wave at the engineer. At night, it was a hauntingly beautiful, melancholy sound. Sometimes, my children and I would go to the Jefferson St. Bridge (it spanned the trainyard) so we could watch trains as they passed under us. We would go on a Tuesday so we could stop for 10 cent coneys at A&W.

  9. @Dixie, now every time I hear a whipporwill, I'll think of you! :)

  10. @Palooski65-yay! I'm glad you figured a way around the scrambling! Love your story about trains a 10 cent coneys. Good memories!

  11. Love the poem--very poignant. I always admire your poetry and the way you express yourself. My aunt and uncle lived 1 block from the train tracks. Their house would shake every time a train roared past. When I was a kid, it scared the heck out of me. By the time I was a teenager, I identified with its lonely call. Now, when I hear trains I think of the hours of daily commuting I did when I lived in Japan and always reach for a book since that's how I passed those hours.

  12. Connie and I once lived on Greg St. across from the tracks. The first night I awoke around midnight to the whistle blowing, windows rattling, and the floor shaking. It came through every night, but only woke me that one time.

    Scent creates a strong memory trigger for me as well.

  13. Our dairy farm lay in a valley that stretched down from a town that was built on hill. Trains came through often when I was a child, and the sound carried down into the valley, past the trees,over the pastures and ponds, and gently invaded our home. I loved to be awake at 2 a.m. and listen to the wheels against the tracks until silence fell again.

  14. I grew up living next to train tracks. They were only a hundred feet away. Although the trains rattled the windows and shook our house when they came by, I learned to sleep through them at night.

    I love trains, but I have no desire to live next to the tracks again. I do enjoy hearing trains in the distance, especially at night.