20 years later: Is there a poem in this tragedy?

20 years later: Is there a poem in this tragedy?


The other day on the Canal Path in Pittsford I saw again 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 I had noticed a couple of years ago.

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.

tragedy-2I looked up the facts. twenty years ago today 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?

SEE Some more poetry from the Mystic.

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.

tragedy-3Something 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 20 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.


The Cobb’s Hill tragedy of an “invisible man” ten years later

Charlotte Lahr (1970 – 2017)

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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