Wednesday, 8 January 2014

“How Do You Do?”

The minutes ticked,
in mind numbing clackety clacks:

the words rattling like choo-choos
(coming round the mountain tracks).

in her jabber-babble boxcar:
up-tight and flattened to the Wall
of Good Manners – trying deftly,
to not clench my teeth at all.

Trapped: like a poor rail rider yakety-yakked
. . . by every blurt and blab and cough –
(thirty minutes in, I swear,
she’d chewed my ears clean off).

But then:  as I considered
sending up a silent prayer
miracle of miracles  
the woman, stopped . . . to brake for air.

(nick-of-time, end-of-the-line
AND:  an exit out of there)

“Oh look,” I said, “that’s
. . . um-m-m . . . some . . . one,
I been meaning to talk to . . .
REALLY meaning to, and so good-bye -
so nice . . . to have – met you.”

And as I steamed away I heard: 
 “Hello, how do you do?”

Notes:  The phrase “How do you do” came to prominence in the 16th century – one of the first uses in literature being found in the novel Pamela by Samuel Richardson in 1740.  Apparently, it is slowly being replaced by “how are you?” although, I have to say, I still hear it  frequently, when introductions are exchanged.  However, regardless of whether intros begin with “How do you do” or “How are you” they are usually followed (more often than not) by less than scintillating conversation – the “newly introduced” having just met, and generally knowing next to nothing about the other. 

Rail Riders refers to Hoboes in the 1930’s, who (desperate for work in more prosperous locations) jumped on the boxcars of American and Canadian trains and were, essentially trapped (often with strangers) until the train slowed down or stopped.  Novelist Louis L'Amour*, TV host Art Linkletter*, oil billionaire H. L. Hunt*, journalist Eric Sevareid* and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas* (*deceased) are just a few of the (estimated) over 2 million Hoboes who rode the rails in search of work. 

photo:  picture of an Art Deco Poster of a Canadian Pacific Train - 30’s or 40’s, I think (from the Port Moody Museum on the Lower Mainland) – W. Bourke

© 2014 Wendy Bourke 


  1. in her jabber-babble boxcar - oh, I can only imagine!

    another v. fun portrait. jabberers make me feel like screaming. being trapped with one - even worse.

  2. Jabberers are vexsome - particularly when you don't agree with what it is they're jabbering about. Smiles.

  3. Ha ha! You made me laugh with this one! I can so identify with the speaker in this. It seems like those "Exits" don't appear soon enough in situations like these. Interesting about "How do you do?" I never hear it anymore. I always like your process notes. You always teach me something. And I really enjoyed the art deco piece. I always thought it would be cool to decorate a room in artwork like that. My hubby loves trains and would love it too. Thank you for the warm welcome back on my blog Wendy!

  4. Thanks, Jennifer - It's great to see you back. I so enjoy the lovely, thought provoking poetry that you post on your blog: Poet Laundry.

  5. ha. i love trains...i do not like being trapped in conversations where i am being use some fun word pairings and sounds in this...that adds to the enjoyment...

  6. Yes, working with sounds was a lot o fun in this poem. I'll have to try and remind myself to try it again some time. And picking up on "railroaded" was inspired. I don't think I'd actually thought of that - at least not consciously. Thanks for that.

  7. Oh yes, I can picture this scene. I don't enjoy being trapped in a conversation when I would really like to just do my own thing. Sometimes it is hard to think of away to escape from this kind of jibber-jabber. Ha, if nothing else one can feign a nap!