Rocking the Carriage

Cynthia Zarin

For years we kept one in the hall
and rocked the baby there to sleep,
up and down the long dim corridor.
It was a job that someone had,
laundry half-folded, papers unread.
Somewhere there was always fog
or snow, or so the radio said.
Rocking went on right through the zones,
past reckonings and acts of God.
So little happened in the hall
—the odd leak, a warped door not shut—
that often, lulled, I couldn’t tell,
the child I wanted so to sleep,
was it Jack, Beatrice, or Rose?
The carriage wheels had turned so long
they wore a track into the floor,
and some days as I stood and pushed,
the pictures on the painted walls
were windows, and the hall, a train,
and down the railroad ties we rode,
past sunsets, cows, past bicyclists,
past towns. I liked a neon sign
that advertised an old racetrack.
Bright red, the horse and rider moved.
A clock. A steeple. Another train,
charged backwards with a hiss.
We stopped once, halting sharply, to
let others in: an aged aunt,
a friend, just dead. Sandwiches were fetched.

My friend took out a book to read,
but though I tried, I couldn’t see
the spine. (She couldn’t answer, so
I didn’t ask.) When lunch was done,
a girl got up to say good-bye.
“Oh look,” I said, “you’re all grown up.”
She wasn’t hard to recognize.
Her face grew small until, a cloud,
it rose above a pinafore.
“See you,” she said. Then one by one,
the rest got on and off, as if she,
being the eldest, had shown them how.

The train passed through a clear cold night.
Trees were met once, the moon many times.
Hills undulated out of sight
as if the dreaming earth had stirred,
or a giant tossed a blanket down.
Then the view changed. A stony place
stretched out as far as I could see,
the distance held by a green maze
whose branches met above my head.
“Ssh,” I said. “The baby musn’t wake.”
With one hand I reached up and touched
the emerald mat of prickly leaves,
no hedge now, but a loose tweed sleeve
which I clutched hard so not to fall.
My step made bigger to match hers,
I swayed as if I walked between
two railway cars about to part.

And with my other hand I rocked
the grizzling baby in the hall,
willing no noise to break the spell—
the downstairs bell, a caterwaul,
a crying child, a train whistle.

Cynthia Zarin is the author of, most recently, Two Cities: Essays on Venice and Rome. Next Day, New and Selected Poems will be published next year.
Originally published:
October 1, 2001


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