He Said They Move Too Slowly

The ER doc said the trains here
Go too slow
For anybody to kill themselves
By stepping out
In front of one
As if they were sleepy little engines
Without much power
That drifted ghost-like through town
Quietly at night
Pulling freight cars full of pillows
And soft dreams, cat breath,
Moonlight, the shadows of flowers,
And what-ifs
By stepping out in front of a whisper
Or a thought so transitory that it
Would not register in a cloud chamber
How could one die after all
In a collision with cotton candy
They move too slowly he said
Dismissing the threat
And the patient.
And she felt shamed
Despite her knowing
It wasn’t true
It wasn’t true
It’s not true
The trains thunder through
The night shaking houses
As glassware shivers
And picture frames
Worry and tilt and the
Night parts before the engine
Before its bright light
And the blast of
Its mournful horn
And how small she was
Caught in that light
Just before impact
Knocking the ghost
Right out of her
Her spirit mingling
With the shriek of the
Useless brakes
Trailing off into the night

Joseph Bocchicchio worked in crisis intervention/suicide prevention in community mental-health settings for twenty-four years before retiring. His story “Passing Through” appeared in The Healer’s Burden: Stories and Poems of Professional Grief and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the publisher. He now works as a museum educator in Boston, where he lives with his wife, Victoria.

About the Poem

“This poem was inspired by one of my clients, who had presented to the ER with suicidal ideation–with a plan to step in front of a freight train. The physician was dismissive of his report and released him. Although the patient did not make an attempt upon release, his experience was not unlike that of others who did in fact complete suicide by stepping in front of a train at a spot where there had been multiple completions over the years.”

Comments

6 thoughts on “He Said They Move Too Slowly”

  1. The ER doc is just the plinth for this remarkable story told with contrasting images of death. So so effective. Thank

  2. I facilitate an adult peer support group for suicide loss. Everyone in the group has lost a loved one–a spouse, child, parent, sibling or friend–to a violent death by suicide. I am thinking about the mother of one young man who stepped in front of a train. Mr. Bocchicchio, you said it so powerfully, that “courage… is long worn away prior to suicide and is replaced by a deep dull dark relentless pain paired with a paradoxical numbness, the heart itself blank…. one doesn’t step in front of a train as much as one steps into a void.” But I’m not clear about the “absence of love and loving.” This young man knew he was deeply loved, and he deeply loved his Mom–of this she is absolutely certain. It was not an absence of love but a catastrophic absence of hope which led him to take his life, and only when she left town for a few days to visit family. She does not forgive herself for this, and gets physically sick every time she has to cross the bridge above the tracks where he died. It sickens me that in this poem and in your experience, the ED doc dismissed the patient’s pain and despair. Thank you for this incredibly powerful poem, Sir.

  3. This is an extraordinary poem.

    “How could one die after all
    In a collision with cotton candy
    They move too slowly he said
    Dismissing the threat
    And the patient.”

    This seemed, to me, the
    heart of the poem.

    After reading it, I hoped that the
    patient had the courage to step
    in front of the train–if that is what
    she truly wanted to do.

    1. courage I think is long worn away prior to suicide and is replaced by a deep dull dark relentless pain paired with a paradoxical numbness, the heart itself blank…. one doesn’t step in front of a train as much as one steps into a void…. an absence of love and loving… a vacuum shorn of all ight and a black hole from which no light escapes… but you are right… the ED MD trivialized the pt and her pain and helped push her on to the the tracks

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