“And now for our (as always, optional) prompt, which takes us from 2015 back to the 1700s. After all, it’s the eighteenth of April, which means that today is the 240th anniversary of the midnight ride of Paul Revere! Today, in keeping with the theme of rush and warning, I challenge you to write a poem that involves an urgent journey and an important message. It could historical, mythical, entirely fictional, or memoir-ical.”
Of the train journey that night this train passed by the house where I was holidaying with my parents about an hour before this happened. All my childhood I would listen to this passenger train and the Limited train which went through earlier in the evening chug up the hill from the valley near our home. My husband, a signalman in the air force had to work through that night and for several days after working messages as was done on the nearby base at that time. I lost a friend on that dreadful night.
Weeping Waters – Tangiwhai
It was Christmas Eve nineteen fifty three
As the Express train roared through the night;
on and on through the centre of the Island.
On board were two hundred and eighty five travellers.
And none of them knew of the great Lahar, from
the mountain above, released with force unpredictable.
The train gathered speed, few stops now in the hinterland.
And none could know that the piers of the bridge
they would cross had been damaged.
They sped on through the night,
Some already asleep, others too excited.
But a horrified man Mr Ellis, passing near
the railway track at the time, flashing a torch,
raced forward to alert the fireman and driver.
The First-class Engineer applied the emergency brakes
the fireman released the sandbox lever,
as the Express roared toward the bridge
over the Whangaehu River.
It would reduce the number
of carriages, personnel lost.
But the toll was high; one hundred and fifty one.
As brave Messers Ellis and Inglis worked
hard to save those in the teetering carriages.
Number Plate K 949 of the Wellington
to Auckland Express is posted on an obelisk
at the place of “weeping waters” – Tangiwhai
and upstream the Lahar warning has sounded,
but once, since the sad night that bought
an even sadder Christmas we all remember.
Benita H. Kape © 19.4.2015