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The Twelve-Forty-Five

 (For Edward J.
Wheeler) Within the Jersey City shed The engine coughs and shakes its head, The smoke, a plume of red and white, Waves madly in the face of night.
And now the grave incurious stars Gleam on the groaning hurrying cars.
Against the kind and awful reign Of darkness, this our angry train, A noisy little rebel, pouts Its brief defiance, flames and shouts -- And passes on, and leaves no trace.
For darkness holds its ancient place, Serene and absolute, the king Unchanged, of every living thing.
The houses lie obscure and still In Rutherford and Carlton Hill.
Our lamps intensify the dark Of slumbering Passaic Park.
And quiet holds the weary feet That daily tramp through Prospect Street.
What though we clang and clank and roar Through all Passaic's streets? No door Will open, not an eye will see Who this loud vagabond may be.
Upon my crimson cushioned seat, In manufactured light and heat, I feel unnatural and mean.
Outside the towns are cool and clean; Curtained awhile from sound and sight They take God's gracious gift of night.
The stars are watchful over them.
On Clifton as on Bethlehem The angels, leaning down the sky, Shed peace and gentle dreams.
And I -- I ride, I blasphemously ride Through all the silent countryside.
The engine's shriek, the headlight's glare, Pollute the still nocturnal air.
The cottages of Lake View sigh And sleeping, frown as we pass by.
Why, even strident Paterson Rests quietly as any nun.
Her foolish warring children keep The grateful armistice of sleep.
For what tremendous errand's sake Are we so blatantly awake? What precious secret is our freight? What king must be abroad so late? Perhaps Death roams the hills to-night And we rush forth to give him fight.
Or else, perhaps, we speed his way To some remote unthinking prey.
Perhaps a woman writhes in pain And listens -- listens for the train! The train, that like an angel sings, The train, with healing on its wings.
Now "Hawthorne!" the conductor cries.
My neighbor starts and rubs his eyes.
He hurries yawning through the car And steps out where the houses are.
This is the reason of our quest! Not wantonly we break the rest Of town and village, nor do we Lightly profane night's sanctity.
What Love commands the train fulfills, And beautiful upon the hills Are these our feet of burnished steel.
Subtly and certainly I feel That Glen Rock welcomes us to her And silent Ridgewood seems to stir And smile, because she knows the train Has brought her children back again.
We carry people home -- and so God speeds us, wheresoe'er we go.
Hohokus, Waldwick, Allendale Lift sleepy heads to give us hail.
In Ramsey, Mahwah, Suffern stand Houses that wistfully demand A father -- son -- some human thing That this, the midnight train, may bring.
The trains that travel in the day They hurry folks to work or play.
The midnight train is slow and old But of it let this thing be told, To its high honor be it said It carries people home to bed.
My cottage lamp shines white and clear.
God bless the train that brought me here.

Poem by Joyce Kilmer
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