The Branch Line Is Closed

220px 66086 Highworth Branch

There were to be trips each Summer,
expeditions up the line, anniversaries,
but at what cost and to where
and how could the old track take the weight?
No one else had heard of this
and no one came.

At the junction with the main line
week end amateurs from an electric age
practised filing, cutting iron
and nineteenth century cooking.
They polished the engine flanks
but said they had no power
as yet, as yet.
Said they were not playing at this
but perhaps they were, as yet.

Yes, they said evasively, there is a way
to be disclosed but no maps of the line,
the office shut long since and the shares sold off,
a map, maybe, in a museum somewhere,
under glass, a primer to ancient pioneering,
so to say ‘under-invested’.

And the old workers died ‘in harness’, yes,
and lie at the line side in neat, green graves
anonymous in the sunlight reaching down
through the uncut hazel woods to warm them
for an hour as now. Ahead, the valley crowds,
is mountainous, grows dark by early afternoon
bright only where screes in a slash
nearly reach down to warm the sleepers.

No one could remember the round trip,
but if old report is trusted, worthwhile,
if you travelled to the end,
or so it is alleged. Who else
might ride in these slow patched carriages?
Only the miscellaneous and the mad
those who looked too long for salvation
in cities, were conned of hope and cash.

Some take the last chance journeys
on hearsay, whispers, a late night story,
or when a friend dies muttering some
incoherent sense. They know
time is too brief to reach the famous terminus
or the desert shrine; with no hope now of hope:
know too that they may come back
famished and still dying to their beginning.

At the line’s end, under a mountain
black and glittering with frost
the engine sighs, calls this a halt
and five minutes are allowed
to visit the tea hut, take film, return.
Or dump memory and hope and
walk towards the foggy slope.

For here, it it is alleged, the terror starts,
you are naked of thought, it is cold
and what passes for help are old and alien things,
a copse like a wood henge, way markings of stones
set at angles in the grass, a smudged hearth
and sounds the ears miss
or never learnt to hear,
and the mist above towards which
what seems to be a path
seems to meander.

A whistling from below.
And now, at last, the necessary silent cloud,
From darkness into darkness.

Roy Ashwell