The Last Train by Mervyn Taylor
The Last Train by Mervyn Taylor
Mervyn Taylor was born in Trinidad but has been a long-time resident of Brooklyn. He has published seven previous volumes of poetry and has taught at Brooklyn Community College, The New School and in the NYC public school system.
The first thing one might notice about Mervyn Taylor’s wonderful new book, The Last Train, is the formal arrangement of his stanzas. With few exceptions, the poems are written in unrhymed free-verse couplets, tercets, quatrains, and the occasional quintet. This formal elegance is reflected in the poet’s careful attention to detail and his lyrical imagery. His language exuberantly celebrates the simple pleasures of life like the cherry blossoms in a park…
“…trembling high above the dogs
chasing Frisbees with long leaps,
owners just as giddy with delight.”
The reader also shares in the delight of the poet’s leaps of language. Unlike too much contemporary poetry, there is always a point to Taylor’s lyrics. Not in a didactic way but in a way that makes the reader whisper… “Yes, yes, life is like that…” Note this observation about a daughter who has not seen her parents…
“…in years, who’s out on the coast
someplace, having a hard time
coming to terms with a mother
who means well, all her life
seeking everyone’s happiness /before her own.”
How succinctly the poet defines a familiar relationship in only thirty words. Taylor draws a portrait of two characters in a few lines that a novelist would take an entire chapter (if not a book) to portray. This is one of the many strengths of this marvelous collection of poems from a mature poet with a superior command not only of the English language but also the language of the human heart.
There are various references to the poet’s extended family and especially his father (who worked on the railroad) and reflections on the poet’s own mortality. But these are not morbid reflections. It is as though the poet is simply feeling somewhat melancholy in thinking that he will eventually have to leave this world that despite all its hardship and injustice is still a beautiful place. I’m reminded of Robert Frost’s lines… “I’d like to get away from earth awhile / And then come back to it and begin over.” To want to come back and begin again means you wish to relive the experience. In this age of cynicism and negativity it is an honorable thought. Taylor reflects on the day when…
“…they will sprinkle ashes
perhaps mine, perhaps yours, and
the sea will make us disappear.”
But what the poet regrets is “…a love we never made.” What a beautiful thought and a brave acceptance of the inevitable. This is not to say that the poet is indifferent to the suffering that exists in the world. In “Elegy for Kenny” he speaks of Kenny Chow who drowned himself in the East River because he was unable to gather enough money to obtain a taxi medallion.
“…all we saw was color: not the trouble,
not the history, the cost of his dream.”
The Last Train is Mervyn Taylor’s farewell to a life fully lived—the last train ride of his existence. But it is not a dirge. It is a celebration. Like Carnival in Taylor’s native Trinidad it is a dance with the unescapable circumstance of what it means to be human. Like Taylor, you can celebrate it, dance with it, live it or you can shrink from its challenges and in the process lose your humanity.
If this is Mervyn Taylor’s last train ride we can only hope it will not be the last book of his dazzling poetry.
Jonathan Harrington has published twenty books including poetry, novels, essays and translations. A graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop he has lived in Mexico for over twenty years. His latest book of poems is called Lift Up the Stone: The Gospel According to Jonathan (bilingual English/Spanish).
Mervyn Taylor, a Trinidad-born poet and longtime Brooklyn resident, has taught at Bronx Community College, The New School and in the New York City public school system. He is the author of seven books of poetry, including The Waving Gallery (2014), and most recently, Country of Warm Snow (2020), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation that was listed for the Bocas Lit Prize. Taylor recently published a chapbook of poems titled News of the Living: Corona Poems. Currently, he serves as co-editor on the advisory board of Slapering Hol Press.