New Jersey to Canterbury: In search of a pilgrimage

by Carolyn Martin
Somewhere there’s proof I arrived –
a ticket stub, walking map, photos
of my black wool coat against Cathedral gray.

But memory is creased
like the London Times I penciled
years ago. Kensington ... Harrod’s sales ...
dried-out toast, blackish tea ... one-stop
train sloughing steam southeast ...


Modest remains: these faded notes and plan.
A day-long pilgrimage during winter break
to say I’d been. To brag I knelt
with pomp and blood. To stroll down paths
with Chaucer’s sundry ghosts.
One stop. No detours. Definitive.

But I stalled – at Ashford’s transfer stop
where squires, plowmen, knights and nuns
disguised as modern folk hustled toward
connecting times. Intent on getting there
from here, they ignored three yapping pups
crated near the yellow warning line.

No one peered through wooden slates.
No one stopped to share collie drool.
No one but me: a teacher freed from school
who warmed her ungloved hands
in black-white fur she still can feel.

That’s it, I’ll tell any listener:
A memory of dogs tagged
to ride upland where daffodils wait to thaw.
A world – I love this after-thought –
where work and play spite the cold.
A world Constable could paint.
A world I didn’t know at all.

And, if I’m so inclined, I’ll share
my troubling: Why I cannot reconcile
my sad take-leave of whining dogs.
Why the urge – unsummoned, unprovoked –
to ride upland. Why an “All aboard!” froze
me in a backward glance, erasing what came next.

Now forty years after fact, I re-fold
the yellowed Times and doze in slants
of Jersey light. There. The dream again.
Three feisty pups jump the tracks
and do what they do best:
Herd a pilgrim down a muddy road.
No need for trains or maps.
What happened after that? rouses me.
And then what happened after that?


Carolyn Martin is blissfully retired in Clackamas, Oregon, where she gardens, writes and plays with communities of creative colleagues. Currently, she is president of VoiceCatcher, a nonprofit that connects women writers and artists in greater Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington.

© 2013, Carolyn Martin