Trump-Age American Life And Victorian-Era Madness

Victorian-era image linking train rides to mental illness

The Victorian Belief That a Train Ride
Could Cause Instant Insanity

Somewhere in Appalachia, a woman
is telling her oldest son not to strike back
at a fugitive father for having abandoned them.

The standard unit of pain is hers to call whatever
she wants since she wears the bruises like the son
wears Goodwill Levis and a t-shirt saying Tramps

Like Us, Baby, We Were Born to Run. The son isn’t
showcasing what he is, in his father’s cast-off t-shirt,
because Springsteen is the last word in Suffering. He

puts it on, the t-shirt, because what changes the way
we breathe is what we believe—though the Victorians
believed train rides could drive you mad. The riders

were rescuing themselves from the insanity of others
just by boarding. Just now, this one knots his leather-
and-scrap-wood tchotchke crucifix around his neck—

the cross is hollow and carries a powder they say
will kill you. I say what kills you isn’t the drug but
the hopelessness puts it there. Saying that, though,

is like floating on the wind through sainted hillsides
where row-house chimneys are censers distributing
God’s breath as coal smoke. The smoke is bruised

gold. It says how, even if there is no God and all
the days from Then to Now have handed us no
reason to hope, we still have a train to catch.

Inspired by an Atlas Obscura item linking Victorian-era train rides and mental illness.

Roy Bentley About Roy Bentley

Roy Bentley is the author of four books and several chapbooks. Poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Shenandoah, Blackbird, Indiana Review, Prairie Schooner, North American Review, and elsewhere, as well as the anthologies New Poetry from the Midwest and Every River on Earth. His collection of poems Nosferatu in Florida is currently in search of a publisher, having been a finalist for the New American Poetry Prize (twice), the Moon City Review Poetry Prize, the Gerald Cable Book Award, and the Anhinga Prize for Poetry. He has received a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (in poetry) and fellowships from the arts councils of Ohio and Florida. He lives in Pataskala, Ohio.

Comments

  1. Thank You, Roy.

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