The Joy Of Influence: Light Rail Coyote to Tuesday Poem

The original Light Rail Coyote: Portland, OR, 2002

Last week, I was the editor of the hub Tuesday Poem, and I chose Helen Lehndorf’s fine poem Oh Dirty River, for reasons I detail below the poem itself. But there’s another angle to the story that I didn’t know at the time I posted the poem.

Wellington readers will know that there’s a lot of debate about the future of Wellington’s transport system at the moment. Whereas the Government has decided (quite rightly) to back an expansion of Auckland’s rail system, it wants to drape Wellington in motorways and flyovers¬†instead of backing a light rail system for Wellington.

Seeking a bit of light relief for a Facebook post I was making on the topic, a couple of days after I’d posted Helen’s poem, I included a link to the Sleater-Kinney song “Light Rail Coyote”. I played it to check that it had loaded correctly, listening with half an ear – and thought I heard the phrase “oh dirty river”. I checked the lyrics online – not always a guarantee of accuracy, but there it was again, right at the end of the song, not long after the coyote makes an appearance. (Excellent lyrics, too!)

It couldn’t be a coincidence – could it? I contacted Helen Lehndorf, and she said that yes, the title of her poem came from Sleater-Kinney’s “Light Rail Coyote”, and that it was one of her favorite songs. So an adventurous coyote (pictured above) that climbed into a carriage of Portland, Oregon’s Light Rail Max system in 2002 inspired the Sleater-Kinney song, which contained the line “oh dirty river”, which inspired Helen’s poem, which inspired me to post it. Influence isn’t only a source of anxiety!

If Wellington does get a light rail system – as it should – I think it will deserve a song of celebration. “Light Rail Tuatara”, anyone?

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