The One Fifteen to Penn Station
by Kevin Carey
The words "pretentious’ and ‘poetry" are so often used in conjunction, they might be mistaken for a single compound word. So it’s a joy and a relief to discover Kevin Carey’s The One Fifteen to Penn Station, a collection of poetry that uses language to elevate the everyday thoughts and occurrences of life without surrendering its author’s common-man voice.
—From ForeWord Review, Full review at www.forewordreviews.com
Kevin Carey’s The One Fifteen to Penn Station arrives just in time to deliver us from our familiar lives to richer ones that are just outside our ordinary city limits. These poems celebrate the ride of life, real life—and its twin, real death--with wit, precision, and a brave and unmistakably tremendous heart. I just love, as Carey clearly does, the kids who “believe in every invention but their own”—they are, bless them, the children of America, and this book can help and guide them as it does us. And while this particular train may be headed to Boston, the lost—and I mean all of us—can take it anywhere. There’s no one I’d rather have so awake at the wheel.
Fierce, tender, gritty, intelligent, Kevin Carey's The One Fifteen to Penn Station is one of the strongest books of poetry I've read this year. —Laura Boss
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
KEVIN CAREY teaches Writing at Salem State University. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, recognized with an Allen Ginsburg Poetry Award, and been nominated for Best of the Net 2011. His co-written movie script, Peter's Song, won "Best Screenplay" at the New Hampshire Film festival in 2009. Other screenwriting awards include The Mass Film Office Screenwriting Competition and The Woods Hole Film Festival. His one-act plays have been staged at The New Hampshire Theater Project and at The New Works Festival in Newburyport, Mass. Kevin is also a seventh grade basketball coach. He lives with his family in Beverly, MA.
Foreword by Marie Mazziotti Gillan
More than ten years ago I sponsored an exhibit by the sculptor Henri Simon at the Broadway Gallery of Passaic County Community College in Paterson, New Jersey. As part of the exhibit, we displayed a large copper sculpture of a Model T Ford, complete with a battery, ignition key, hood, fenders, and wheels. It was shiny and perfect. The students couldn’t stay away from it. They were fascinated by its polished presence in the center of the Gallery. The only thing wrong with it is that it didn’t run. For me, much of contemporary poetry has the same problem; it’s shiny and beautiful with its polished language and elegant lines. What it is missing, however, is the ability to move us to laughter or tears or smiles.
Reading Kevin Carey’s The One-Fifteen to Penn Station gives me hope that one can craft a poem and not lose the heart of it, the quality that touches us and forms a bridge between the poet and the reader.
Carey’s poems, firmly rooted in the American landscape of the city and its surrounding towns, bring these places and people alive for us in poetry that is specific, clear, and unflinching. Whether he is describing the scene he sees outside the train window in all its gritty, surprising beauty or working-class Revere Beach, the town where he grew up and where his mother still lives, or the thirty-five foot Madonna on a hill in East Boston, his observations are precise, his humor sardonic, his eyes are the window through which we observe the world he knows so well.
Carey’s universe may be set in blue-collar New England, but out of that backdrop, we find a man very much like ourselves trying to hold on to what everyone loses eventually—his children as they grow up, his parents, long-time friends, perhaps, most important of all, his sense of where he thought he was going to be when he was young and what life is for him now, a middle-aged man searching and asking why some of our best intentions go wrong. The poems are muscular, rooted, and blunt but move forward with an energy that cannot disguise the essential vulnerability. They have that quality of sustained attention, of life deeply lived and felt, that makes them an exploration of all that it means to be human, to want more than we have been given, yet grateful for the moments of grace and connection that transform us.
The One Fifteen to Penn Station
Ten minutes out of Back Bay Station
and I am reminded of a long-ago train
and the futile mission I was on then
and where it brought me and why
it cornered me into thinking I was
onto something, something more
than the wrong hard turn that left me
high but hungry and hurt,
and when I woke up I realized
some things can’t ever be fixed
no matter how hard you try.
The tracks connect us like telephone lines
and power grids and graffiti walls
and parking lots and barbed wire
and chain link and churches,
miles and miles of churches,
and acres of trees flipping by my window
like the clips of conversation around me.
You can see it all out a train window,
you can see the signs: checks cashed,
cold beer, rooms by week, shows nightly,
hawk here, bet here, pay for junk here,
the spray paint broken glass plywood walls,
make peace, Jesus saves, funk lives,
the clothesline, the cardboard,
the vapid faces of the children,
long lines of blank-faced children,
and it reminds you how easy it is
to walk a mile like a rummy in both directions,
run farther and farther away and closer to yourself,
until the worst bet becomes the only one left
and the trouble follows you like soup cans
tied to a wedding car.
But sometimes you catch a glimpse
of a hundred sparrows bursting
from the cover of a lonely maple tree,
or some kid hitting a rubber fastball
high over the telephone wire in slow motion,
or you pass a man standing in a junkyard
pointing to the bottom of a scrap pile,
and you think no matter where you go
you’re always trying to get to the bottom
of the junk,
the junk you choose,
the junk you hide from,
the junk that keeps you riding the rails,
and the train sneaks into the city,
as if someone left the back door open.
The Things We Do
I grew up playing basketball
on a backyard court my father
hot-topped, shooting from
the painted free-throw line,
pretending I was a Boston Celtic,
Sam Jones, too late!
My father watched from the kitchen
window in those days, me and the kids
from the neighborhood playing
two on two, hot summer afternoons,
shirtless, sweating, drinking water
from the garden hose.
Every time I was involved with
basketball he was there,
sitting in the stands,
driving me to gymnasiums all over
the state, coming up with Celtics tickets
on a Sunday afternoon, the third-floor
Garden doors open, the banners
hanging against the smoky ceiling.
It was like we played the game together,
as if any success I had
was a direct result of his wishing it,
his praying for it, maybe. It was harder
for him than me when the coach decided
to cut my playing time and the desire to
play the game evaporated and the politics
of high school sports left him fighting for
my minutes in the lobby of the gymnasium.
But that one night in Boston Garden,
when I came cold off the bench
and made two free throws to seal
a tournament game, he waited for me
outside the bus in the rain,
his trench coat soaked, his soft hat dripping,
and he hugged me and held me a little
longer than usual, and when he wanted
to talk more about it, to share in
the victory after many years of watching
from the kitchen window, or the dusty bleachers,
when he wanted to take me to dinner I said,
“There’s a party at the coach’s house.”
“You go,” he told me. “Have fun.”
And I did and he drove home in silence,
thinking of the game, I’m sure, of the two
free throws he willed in from the seats,
thinking of something like redemption,
the raindrops collecting on the seat around him
from the wet brim of his hat.