The other day on the Canal Path in Pittsford I came across for the first time beneath the trestle of a slightly rusting railroad bridge two names etched on a rock wall and a metal plaque with the same two names.
Coincidentally, a man was telling passerbys the story. Two teenagers, presumably boyfriend and girlfriend. Her foot had caught in the railroad track. Her flailing; he tugging at her leg with all his might. Failing. Himself waiting too long to jump into the canal to be saved. The thud of impact.
I looked up the facts. On June 21st, 1997, “Two Brighton teenagers, a boy and a girl, were killed along a railroad track in Pittsford Saturday afternoon. Jason Pollack, 16, and Melissa Klotz, 14, were the victims.”
Of late I have tried my hand at poetry and imagined there must be one in this tragedy. But what could it be?
On their dying words spoken to each other? Can two doomed adolescents say something that profound in their final speeches? Or from the perspective of the train conductor destined for a lifetime of if only nightmares? Of a witness looking up at that moment to see and hear metal against human bodies. The families getting the inconceivable and inconsolable news.
Something more implausible like her trying to harden his heart by telling him she cheated on him with his best friend to get him to abandon her to save his own life; he not believing a word. Something theological like them hearing the voice of God welcoming them to Heaven.
Something prosaic. He pulls her free. They survive their near death experience. Marry, grow apart, divorce, remarry, forget each other. Or just some attempt to make words out of sheer wordless panic and terror?
Or a poem from my own vantage point. Imagining the heartbreak of those parents losing their children’s future on that bridge 18 years ago, I look at myself, now middle aged and childless. Wondering in the poem in my mind, is it yet too late for me to experience that joy that in a single moment can become that sorrow beyond words?
Perhaps in the end no poem is fitting. Maybe the inscribed rock wall and plaque are enough.