Poem About The Train - Ben Ladouceur (Apt. 9 Press, 2014)
“A train ride is a childhood. You fall asleep
somewhere. Then wake,
and someone has placed your body elsewhere.” (I)
Before I’ve opened to those immersive first lines, Ben Ladouceur’s latest chapbook is beguiling just to handle: a sheath of high quality card-stock that unfolds from the bottom, like a door of the Delorean, and reveals Poem About The Train in seven unbound sheets. Had they been interlocked with perforations, they might’ve resembled the transfer tickets Ladouceur held during his four-day train voyage to the west coast, where this long poem was conceived.
Composed in six-line stanzas, the poem takes on a rigidity not unlike the clunky rhythm of steel on rails, oscillating the patient anticipation of a train ride and the outdoor vistas observed in passing blur. Each one of these stanzas offers a self-contained digression evaluating the condition of insects, vegetation and other sights: are they lush and fornicating or greying, in decay? Beyond mere zone-out speculation, the author’s often morose assessments on everyday wildlife, whizzing by track-side, fill blind spots with tantalizing guesswork over Ladouceur’s motives.
“This, a province of abandonments. Which is no
put-down: I hold
too much dear, these days, watching lodgings shrink,
by distance or decrepitude; I long.
Amongst the upturned things,
we leave the waters be. All we take is pause.” (III)
I sense an escape afoot. Moments of note during the trip, such as an attendant’s rehearsed romanticism of the eastern prairies, ruffles our protagonist, who disowns whole regions as populated by diseased rabbits and delusional astrology. But while these instances of windowsill bug powder and train rust provide glimpses into causality and the (dis)comforts of a relationship, they’re also shared with a fellow passenger, who offsets Ladouceur’s train of thought (sorry, had to…) with startling scenes of life, reawakening. Couched between the natural world’s grime and tenderness is an onboard love interest, which shakes Poem About the Train out of its mental cloud and activates Ladouceur, exploring his agency both in carriage and lust.
“The ground wakes as slowly as we do, stretches
the limbs at sublime angles. Suddenly
a wild building, made of leaves and hidden
fauna. It’s bright. It’s near.
It goes: body, body, window, fog, mountain.” (VI)
The poem’s last page clarifies Ladouceur's relationship but not his shadow, which lengthens the further his one-way ticket stretches. “When I approach you, a treason comes with me,” he writes, but those intentions remain murky. Will Vancouver alleviate his burden and cynicism? Does it really matter to the text? His narrative arc is attentively paced but secondary to the incisive drama of each stanza. That’s where the real voyage is — in fresh, often surreal, imagery that Ladouceur carves out of hulking landscapes and bestows with tricky intimacy. Jumping from nihilism to eroticism and then wayfaring introspective states in-between, Ladouceur’s aesthetic distance plays constant hide-and-seek.
To test just how tightly constructed Poem About The Train is, try reordering its loose pages and reading the chapbook anew. (Such a recommendation sounds like sacrilege, I know.) On account of its stand-alone stanzas and well scattered themes, my various reshuffling of pages managed to ruffle the chronology but not in any way that impeded Ladouceur’s tone or volition. It should go without saying that the author’s order is best, but I cannot think of another long poem that a) can be re-assembled without losing its pace and b) is actually designed to facilitate that re-assembling.