On the Train Home from Oban

I wrote this poem several years ago, maybe around 2010-12, and subsequently edited it in a minor way last year. It's a long poem by my usual standards but an easy narrative. It's a personal favourite because it expresses a deeply private set of emotions openly. It's bitter-sweet, and I feel it's my long practice of mindfulness that allows such feelings to arise and emerge in words like this. Hope you enjoy it.

On the train home from Oban

near Helensburgh with the Gare Loch

gleaming beneath summer green trees

in late pastel sunlight

I took out my photographs

of dad's family from Poland and Persia and war

and the letter from Janina

that includes her desperate words

"All of us are still alive."

Dad, like a schoolboy, in his Polish Navy uniform.

My grandfather, the early photograph of the radical revolutionary

then over the page in his last bald cancer years

with a firmness of expression

betraying fear of war that would come and destroy their lives.

Danka, staring like a zombie on Pahlevi beach

eyes devoid of life, just fifteen

in an oversized man's army shirt


only a year later

her smile gleaming

dressed in Polish national costume

and floral hair braid

in Nazareth.


Looking like Garbo in Polish uniform

complete with tie and jacket,


she who had cradled

a little girl

in Uzbekistan.

The girl within minutes died

Zosia's tears dropping on the girl's

soft peaceful face.

And Janina

God help me

Her eyes melancholy


as if she knew

one day I'd sit on this train

with her image in front of me

bereft of my grandmother

she knowing she would never know me

and yet through this time warp

we meet halfway


not quite

able to touch

to talk

to say so much that needs to be said

about her

about Dad and Zosia and Danka and Wladyslaw

not quite able to make the miraculous connection

that would have healed everything

but we almost get there

almost bridge the killing years

almost express exquisite love

and sorrow

but knowing we have to part

without that communion

till next time

till our love again seeks to connect

what is not possible to connect

and remains instead a hope in the heart

and this series of photographs

set on a page

on my side of the chasm

between life and death


© 2019 by Martin Stepek.