Americana, by John Updike, on the Hamilton Platform

This has been a busy week as students end their semesters and the weather dances between sun and showers, warm and cold. The train ride in today was so like one a year ago. Through the wonders of technology, I share:

I seemed to be getting unusually cold, enjoying the book of Updike’s poems too long, for it to feel like the natural morning routine. As I finally took a look at the reverse side of the billboard, the banner proclaimed trains 30 to 40 minutes late. With me were seasoned travelers, or else it was a symptom of late spring:  no cacophony of phone calls or laptops erupted. Besides, technology is now so discreet that just a few taps on a handheld can smooth things out. I laughed as I finally boarded a train car and began to thaw out. The conductor had to ask me three times for my pass. I was bound to my book, outside of space and time.

Updike had me in his poetic grasp, even from his grave. This book, Americana[i], takes us on his travels, and to airports all along the American way. In his boyhood home and cemetery, I met his neighbors as I stood among mine. It was his verse, not the cold New England spring, that drained the blood from my head to the heart.

The Hamilton platform is not far from Updike’s Beverly Farms. His Shillington PA evokes scenes from my childhood like those he poured out on the page. His rhythm of verse, his terse, iconic ways draw the reader in, and as this physical train floats through Salem Harbor, my fingers tap and I gaze out on mud flats exposed and re-exposed to Nature’s beat.

 I will, or so I thought, get back to my real work, but not while I’m in such transit, with many others shuffling in to find a seat. One unlucky chap turns back to wait again since this train is so full. We’re all confused, and off the morning’s beat.

We pass through the tunnel, and I finally must turn to what I need to do. It’s cloudy, cool, and now that my legs are warm again, I must leave Updike behind. His pages from another time lie just out of reach down in my bag, and now the heron, there on the marsh, is on the wing.

18 May 2010


[i] Updike, John. Americana and other poems. New York, NY : A.A. Knopf, 2001.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Americana, by John Updike, on the Hamilton Platform

  1. I haven’t read Updike. This makes me think I should! 🙂

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