Before I grew used to it

I would wake to the sound

of the Amtrak whistle

echoing down along the tracks

behind our trailer park

and wonder who was hurtling where

through the dark night and across

this wide Illinois prairie

and why and with whom else

and what that could mean.  


This was back when

the overnight hours were a time

I could still be startled

into believing something profound.


Every year now I feel more

convinced there is no good

in all this getting used to things.

Mornings, my wife asks me how I slept

and I tell her, Fine, fine.


Even I’m not sure what I mean.



Justin Hamm's work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Nimrod, The New York Quarterly, Cream City Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Sugar House Review, and a host of other publications.Originally from the flatlands of central Illinois, Justin now lives near Twain territory in Missouri. He is the author of the chapbook Illinois, My Apologies (RockSaw Press, 2011).  Justin earned his MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 2005.

This one began as a laundry list of sounds I remembered hearing in the middle of the night as a kid. Teenagers blasting bass, the neighbor couple arguing, cars with bad exhaust systems coughing to life, followed by tires squealing and laughter, glass breaking. There was a lady who had about fifty different wind chimes hanging from her porch—some of them tinkled; some of them clanged; some of them, if you can imagine, almost whooshed. But this poem belonged to the train whistle, that beautiful, startling, lonesome, philosophical, distinctly American sound. I’ve been trying to force myself to really hear it again, if I can.



Copyright 2009