down among the old- for-America tall buildings that changed the streets of other cities, circulate elevated trains overhead, shrieking and drumming, lit by explosions of sparks that harm no one
The title of Slow Trains Overhead, a collection of poems and stories by Reginald Gibbons, comes from a different passage in that poem, “Adams & Wabash.” The combination in a single volume of one of my favorite literary forms with the one I probably find most intimidating and least accessible made for an unusual but ultimately rewarding reading experience.
I’m rather a fan of regional literature, and literature that focuses on places I’ve lived or know well has been an interest for a long time. That provided, at least, one point of access to the poems in the collection. Knowing I had been to the place and seen the thing being described or alluded to gave a baseline of comprehension. But I’m still not very “good” at reading poems, whatever that might mean, and the fact that so many seemed to be on almost identical subjects or themes—isolation in the city, work, family, distance from nature—meant that what at first seemed beautiful or powerful eventually began to lose much of its force.
The stories, while not all equally good, were much more effective for me. Most are really more like vignettes, just a page or two describing a single scene. One of the more substantial, “A Car,” makes it to a whopping 4.5 pages, but seems to full encapsulate a city life of a type we’ve become familiar with: single woman, small dog, small job, small quotidian world. That dreary repetitiveness is broken briefly, and in a very small way, when she hears “the wheels of a car spinning, the engine racing, whining,” and knows it doesn’t belong
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