Thursday, December 1, 2016

Break Bound Train (A poem of College Misery)

Break Bound Train
Here in the flat country, we get by on grits
and long nights with red pens,
staggering towards the end of things,
and something between death and resurrection
pulls you onward day by day:
a slow moving train going to a place you bought a ticket to
but don't yet believe in.

It might be Oz or Narnia or
(most likely) Winter Break,
But for now, all you see is flat land and trees
outside windows clouded with a thousand dusty days
and dew streaks tracing snail tracks in waves.
"The windows need to be cleaned,"
you think to yourself. You know you
won't be the one to do it.
Your hands are for bleeding.

Your fingers hemorrhage ink on paper;
the conductor collects it every few days.
When the coal ran out, it seemed like the best idea we had.
You don't know where they get these papers;
you are sure you already covered this.
The bleeding red is reflexive at this point.
You unfriend your college roommate
because she still butchers semicolons;
your fingers never stopped aching around her.

When the conductor stops coming by,
you worried but kept working.
Without you, the train wouldn't move
at all. Someone made a new conductor's hat
from a blank title page. We take turns wearing it.

The papers were piling up, so we started taking them
for burning. The engine was gone. I found the dragon
that had eaten the engine liked paper marinated in red ink.
I wonder if we summoned it when we started burning
student papers just to keep moving.

You keep grading. We are running low on red pens,
and the dragon eyes the one who wears the conductor hat
"One more week," the oracle whispers, and you find

-- Poetical in Pensacola

A previous poetical 
spasm may be 


  1. Wow. We're not allowed to use red for grading, so this can't describe my actual experiences - dripping green is rather too plant-y to work - but otherwise this is an excellent poem, love it!

    --Grumpy Academic--

    1. "We're not allowed to use red for grading"

      I am stunned by the depths that the admin flakes will go.

      Today, I am thankful that I can grade in any color I choose.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. There is research, PUBLISHED RESEARCH (albeit I believe about school aged children - I'm too depressed by the whole tell-me-what-colour-to-use bureaucracy to look it up right now, but I have seen a copy sometime), which shows that students get a more negative impression and are more discouraged by a comment written in red ink than by the same comment in another colour.

      We're a research-led institution, don't you know (which is presumably why we still put SO much weight on student evals of teaching, given all the published evidence of how problematic those are).

      ==Grumpy Academic==

      Oh, and like Ben below, this semester I have invested in a bright orange glitter gel ink pen for writing comments. It's not against the rules and it gives me a little flicker of enjoyment among the gloom...

    4. I like brown. Looks like rusty old blood stains, more subtly ominous...

  2. This was really good.

    As for the color of grading pens, the glitter ones are expensive but the marks are eye-catching, I must admit.

  3. Oh, this is great! I LOVE the ending!

    Three weeks left here. One more wind. One. More. Wind.

  4. Oh! And I just reread your poem from 2014 -- so very fine. Do you write outside of our little enclave? It's really good stuff.

    1. Poetical in PensacolaDecember 5, 2016 at 3:36 PM

      Yes, I do! I occasionally even attempt to publish, but it is mostly for my own amusement. Thank you for your kind words.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.