Happy Rails – Part 4

Day 4 – 5:  Train -> Phila -> New Jersey

 “Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?

I cannot stop asking.”[1]

Somehow I lost track of the train route (no pun intended).  Where did I come up with the notion that it would pass through Pennsylvania, from Pittsburgh where I was born to Philadelphia where I learned to love.

Instead – and obviously – it swings down through Kentucky, West Virginia, and Virginia, where I have no history whatsoever.  Only in Maryland do I finally reconnect with my past.  Baltimore, where I wrote my first published poem.   Driving my parents back to Philadelphia after visiting my brothers. Watching them in the rearview mirror sitting next to each other, the sweetness and simplicity of their conversation contrasting with the complexities of my own thoughts.  Refuge.

Two hours before my train arrives at the familiar 30th Street Station (now called William Gray Station), I get a text from Arleen that she is waiting at the station already. We are about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our friendship. The fact that she is already there in the parking lot bodes well for future celebrations.

“Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street.

I took it as a sign to start singing, falling up into the bowl of sky.”

The plan was to stay at Arleen’s in Philadelphia as usual, but her only bathroom is upstairs.  I’m in no condition to manage that, so we are staying at her partner Gail’s in Lumberton New Jersey.  Lush, bird-rich, serene.  

They set up a sleeping area for me on the sun porch where I am surrounded with windows looking out on an arboretum.  Inside the windows are some of the most well-cared for house plants, including an orchid nearly 3 feet tall and filled with ivory blooms, 7 of them. In the corner stands a Norfolk pine that reaches all the way to the ceiling.  Gail tells me it is over 40 years old! It came to her as a tiny potted seedling one Christmas.

Across from my bed, a peace lily, prayer plant, and Christmas cactus. Some kind of variegated ivy with a delicate pink flower hidden in its bosom – none of us know what it is called.  It is robust and lovingly entwines a three-shelf plant stand with small bromeliads and other plants. A protective embrace. When I look at plants, I see their aspirations.

“You must have shadow and light source both.

Listen, and lay your head under the tree of awe.

When from that tree, feathers and wings sprout

On you, be quieter than a dove.”
Jai Baba to All!

[1] All quotes are from Hafiz – Coleman Barks’s renderings.

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