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“A Short History of Friendship” by either G. C. Waldrep or John Gallaher. Not sure which.

August 17, 2012 by Reader's Connection

Your Father on the Train of GhostsYour Father on the Train of Ghosts  is one of my favorite books in which the poems were originally sent as letters (or parts of letters) from one poet to another, and in which you aren’t told which poet wrote which poem. But then, I’ve only read one other book of this sort, Braided Creek, by Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser.

As John Gallaher, one of the poets involved here, explains it–on his blog, there’s not a word of explanation in the book:

“I do remember that I affixed a poem that I had just written to the bottom of an email to him, as I often do. His response was something along the lines of “I like to respond to such things with poems of my own, so sending a poem to me is a dangerous thing.” . . . My response was something along the lines of “bring it on.” And so we started sending poems back and forth at a rather furious pace, lifting things from each other, riffing off things from each other, and speaking back to something, some tone or subject or maneuver, from each other, to the tune of something like 200 poems.”

More poems came later, then this book was put together, and then, as Gallaher says, there’s “the question of what to do with the hundreds of poems that don’t make it into the book. I’ve suggested a designer line of wallpaper, just so you know.”

Here’s an email from Your Father on the Train of Ghosts , by G. C. Waldrep and John Gallaher ©2011 Boa Editions, Ltd. Reprinted by permission.

A Short History of Friendship


We were all together in this nightclub
where fire was performing: here
fire forms a hoop and then jumps through itself,
here fire is shot from a cannon, here
fire saws fire in half. The music was loud
and the laser show played over the soybean fields
and parked cars, so that what looked like
part of the performance
was often just a lightning bug, or a planet,
a chip of mica in the road. We clapped anyway.
Drinks were on the house.
When we climbed to the roof, we thought
we might spend a few hours
you know, talking, getting to know each other
better. But then suddenly
there wasn’t a roof anymore,
and you asked what it was
we were standing on, and I looked down,
the way you do in a cartoon or against your will
when someone says “Look”
and you realize it was only
a pop-top, or a shadow, a glob of flattened gum
or maybe just somebody’s idea of a joke.
That was when fire decided
to come back on stage for an encore–
a complicated act
involving knives and tigers,
a map of Portugal, a symphony by Bizet
and us, apparently, as a reporter and a policeman
trying to interview the same subject
which was fire, of course,
playing each of us off against the other
until the real reporters and policeman arrived
taking names and statements,
handing out little bits
of the Swiss chocolate you’d said we might try
some other time, in some other town,
when you weren’t so full from dinner
and the smoke wasn’t quite as thick
and you had something to wipe your hands on.


Blogger’s notes:
1) I would love to receive letters like this. Brain cell rearrangement on a regular basis.

2) The line”until the real reporters and policeman arrived” does not contain a typo. There’s only one policeman. Just so you know.

3) Of the essays that I read in A God in the House: Poets Talk about Faith, G. C. Waldrep wrote one of my favorites. He was a member of the New Order Amish for nine years, and since 2005 has been a member of the Old Order River Brethren, a related Anabaptist group.

4) Gallaher may have made this clear in his blog, but I don’t know if any of the poems in Your Father on the Train of Ghosts are reprinted in the order that their emails were sent. I don’t know if “As Mastery Declines into Altitude and Forgiveness” is a reply to “The Radio Inside Your Health Plan is Sleeping.” I need to work on this.

5) If you haven’t done this already, think for a moment about this poem as actually being about a friendship.


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