The Blue Train to America by: Barbara F. Lefcowitz
Dancing Moon Press. 100 pgs. ISBNJ 13:978-1892076-32-8 © 2007
A Review by Ed Zahniser
Three main modes of travel are: in fact, in memory, and in imagination. Barbara F. Lefcowitz whisks you ‘round the world via all three in her insightful ninth book of poetry The Blue Train to America. The book is nicely produced by Dancing Moon Press in Newport, Oregon, with front cover illustration from an original etching by Lefcowitz, who is also a visual artist.
The title prose poem, “The Blue Train to America: A Villanelle in Prose, Variant” somehow concerns a 1920s or ‘30s Polish song “Blekitny Exspress” (The Blue Train) and events of August 31, 1939 with a litany of various voices—including the wind’s voice—intoning: “ITS OVER, ALL OVER.” The poem—as indeed the book—seems infused with the immigration and acculturation experience, and perhaps the lifelong search for home that may beset even second and third generations:
Whenever I listen to that song, whose Polish lyrics I cannot understand, I visit that white stucco house, passing the chute where blue-black coal slides into a pit of flames, passing my father as he waxes his green Dodge in the driveway, passing the cage where my grandmother’s live turkey paces, its wattle as red and funny as what I saw dangling between the legs of the boy next door.
Presumably the “white stucco house” is that in Brooklyn from the poem’s earlier section. But it is also, perhaps, the universal house from which Lefcowitz launches her poetic search of large chunks of the world for that place to call home. “Beads of Fire” could be set in China or a Chinatown, Anywhere. “Rarotonga” hails from the Cook Islands. There’s Ireland, The Big Apple, Manhattan, Brooklyn, lots of Paris, Saturn (it’s rings, at least), Vitebsk (from inside a mammogram machine), Iceland, Arizona, Turkey, a Buddha’s footprints in Southeast Asia, footprints in petrified sands of Africa, and even Wilmington, Delaware.
And for many, travel is at its richest as it is peopled with characters—as are so many of Lefcowitz’s poems. One imagines the encyclopedic novels Proust might right after watching a modern jetliner unload and then imagining the lives of each and every character. Lefcowitz delights both to describe and to delve into people her travels—or a photograph—present to her:
Where is he going?
Not a shop or synagogue in sight.
He must be looking for the horse
who used to pull the cart
from which he peddled apples and rags,
an occasional menora or kiddish cup.
Trailing beads of white clouds
the rabbis in the sky chant with the wind.
. . . .
Some villagers claim
they’re tyring to get closer to Yahweh.
But I suspect they’re waiting for Chagall.
If you have neither time nor money for a vacation this summer, take one vicariously with Lefcowitz, riding The Blue Train to America:
Blake’s vision was so keen
he could see it in a single grain of sand
but I need a pomegranate
to see the world.
Ed Zahniser is poetry editor of the Good News Paper in Shepherdstown, W.V. He is the author of several books of poetry, most recently Mall-hopping with the Great I Am, Somondoco Press, 2006.