Clarifying Memories

These streets stretch me,
pull me to places I thought
forgotten. Children’s calls
echo from porches and yards,
faint apparitions flit before
me, like my breath — visible,
but insubstantial, then gone —
on this March morning.

They put us on the train
with a promise of relatives
waiting at the appointed stop.
Three kids to one berth, clinging
to each other instead of parents,
unclear about what it means
to die.
I remember the sounds
of that ride –the constant repetition
of wheels on track, the jingle-jangle
of the change in my pocket,
the snores from the next bed,
my sister’s nightmares —
but not much else.

There are chalk stains
on the sidewalk — hopscotch
and the creatures a child’s
mind creates — toys left overnight
in yards, bikes in driveways.
Nothing, and everything,
is different, and there
is nothing here to find.

No, there are only memories
to master and words to leave
at graves.


Filed under Poetry, Poetry - Prompts

27 responses to “Clarifying Memories

  1. Wonderful Mark. Thanks for the train ride.

  2. The train ride of children to prison camps is a horrifying thought where hope is still in their minds. (I read the the last line of stanza as “is nothing here to find” is that right?)

  3. Old Egg’s comment brought me up short: To me your poem was the memory of the train journey to a country Great Aunt when the flying bombs – or doodlebugs terrified my mother (and us kids) into fleeing bomb-torn London in 1944.

  4. Maybe I’m lucky, but I only seem to have very happy memories of train journeys.

  5. I love this. “No, there are only memories to master and words to leave at graves.” The whole poem is haunting and lovely, rich in memory. Thank you for this.

  6. Laurie Kolp

    Love how you brought the sounds to life, Mark.

  7. You awaken the memory gene, then sing it aloud. Wonderful stuff,


  8. I saw losing parents and being sent to live with other relatives, the ride to the new home, and then grown ups with memories and emotions to place at the gravesides of parents who passed. This poem is ethereal, lovely, impressionistic, and touching. Nice, Randy

  9. Mark, this is wonderful in all its sadness. Well done.


  10. nan

    . . . words to leave at graves. Powerful poem. Thank you for writing this.

  11. Like that you wrote about children and sounds. It brings memories of play in neighborhoods and summer trips to families far away. There is an uneasiness in your poem that builds to the end of your poem and what waits for us all at the end of our lives. Well done!

  12. Mark, a vivid telling with these words. A striking poem, indeed. Well donw.

  13. Mark, I went straight to Holocaust imagery. The train, in particular, stood out, and the chalk marks… this is open enough to interpretation that each reader took from it what they needed. An important quality in any poet, I believe. Hit me like a sucker punch. Peace, Amy

  14. Simply a bittersweet poem. Excellent poem too.

  15. J Cosmo Newbery

    “…only memories to master and words to leave at graves.” Powerful stuff.

  16. maybe it is because i am teaching the holocaust to my students right now but you had me on the train there as well…though i like the textures..the sounds you gave the trip…nothing to find in the end pulled me back to the holocaust again…well written and evocative man..

  17. Mark, a poignant trip in memory to time of loss and that, perhaps, first recollection of death. If it is the holocaust, and I can see how it could be, it is so compelling…but remains so no matter who was lost. Memory is so elusive and so dependent upon our own perceptions.

  18. Linds

    Something to think about. 🙂

  19. Powerful piece, Mark.Your word choice pulled me back to images of WWII and Auschwitz as soon as I hit S2, though not once do you mention such name. I think all the more vivid and visual by using just allusion and speaking of the everyday things remembered. Well penned indeed.

  20. Lots to think about here….after reading the comments and the perceptions of others. I took away from it that it was a train ride after the death of the children’s parents. Thank you for the wonderful post and
    “…only memories to master and words to leave at graves.”

  21. oh heck…this hit deep and well worked on the contrast of the kids, playing in safety, hopscotching and all and those that faced death during WW II – really well written mark

  22. From the first to the last line, this poem brought back those terrible war torn days ~ I was specially touched with the details of the children, their fears, toys.. A terrific work Mark ~

  23. When my mother died, I was four years old. Dad couldn’t care for the five children (under the age of 7) so I was placed into foster care. I know that feeling of clutching to a sibling, going somewhere and although it looked like children might belong, never fitting in. I believe I left my childhood on the sidewalks in front of our home on that day. Your poem moved me deeply, brought back memories and is helping to lead me to understanding. Excellent and I thank you.

  24. A sad and poignant poem Mark – I read and re-read it and realize it could have multiple meanings but none of them happy. There is as much meaning in what isn’t said as there is in what is…and that’s masterful. I confess. I weep.

  25. Wonderful piece–especially the closing–

  26. Exceptional poetry. An emotional journey, very vivid and genuine.

  27. Memories to master…never thought of it this way.

Some of what I write is true, some is fiction; most is merely possibility.

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