clare burson

silver and ash

long way down

it’s a long way down

look out the window
fields blur by
bare from the harvest
blackbirds fly

it’s a long way down

arrive by the river
bright and strange
dirt roads to nowhere
far-off places

it’s a long way down

confused conversation
thick slow words
waiting for letters
but noone’s heard

distract me
don’t ask me

it’s a long long long way down


in december of 1938, shortly after arriving in the united states, my grandmother and her brother took a train from new york to their new home in memphis, tn.  one Saturday afternoon in early 2008, i called and asked her to tell me about the train ride and her first impressions of her new life.  9 times out of 10, when i ask my grandmother for details about her childhood in germany or her departure from there, her response is, “i don’t remember, clare.  it was so long ago.”  but every once in a while, especially when i am particularly relentless with my questioning, she will surprise me, and herself . . .


it was december when we left new york for memphis. i came from germany, a cold country where december is a cold month.  but here, in america, we travelled by train through areas where children played outside in short skirts and short pants and no jackets like it was springtime!

i remember how long it took to get there.  it was such a long train trip to memphis. nobody goes by train any more, but in those days, that was the only way, and it took us a day and a half! i just couldn’t imagine anything being so far away.  and that’s only a portion of the united states!  it was such a long way down!

once we got to memphis, i really don’t remember who picked us up or who introduced us to whom.  there were so many people. my experience was one of a whole new beginning – something very thrilling when you are so young.  it wasn’t like our mother had said, ‘okay, next week you leave home for a new life in the united states.” we had to wait a long time to leave germany, many many months  and there was so much excitement in the fact that it was finally happening. i’m sure people felt quite sorry for us.  it was a sad thing, what we left behind.  but there are so many different sides to one happening, and everybody was lovely and helpful and nice.


after she was finished, she laughed and asked if i was going to write a song with what she had told me.


1 Comment»

  Marek Bennett wrote @

This song rolls like a train; you get on and it’s already been going a long time, and it picks you up and just keeps going!

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