Joanna Pearson The 2River View, 7.2 (Winter 2003)

Twenty-Four Hour Train

Bumping our green suitcases
through puddles and intersections
while the morning’s still gray
in that crumbling pocket of Seattle,
we arrive at the station and board the train.

We’ve written handfuls
of postcards by ten, so
transplanted to the observation car,
we watch trees reel past like filmstrip,
and inspect the newcomers who board at dying stations.
The retirement group from Olympia is tipsy by noon,
and one tuba-throated woman with hair painted black
flirts with the onboard magician,
or anyone who will listen.
We push headphones into our ears and enter Oregon.
By dusk we’re rumbling
through mountains, dark green,
and the windows dim.
We lean over plastic tables
with microwave burritos and M&Ms.
Hemmed in by black now, both bad movies play,
and our new friends, the two little boys from Portland,
tell us about their girlfriends
until the drunk Canadian guy,
a harmless blusterer, scares them away.
The stumpy-armed woman
with three babies hanging to her shirt
whispers of her husband’s deportation.
Another woman on vacation,
explicates the rearing of children,
and we all argue fondly, taking in advice,
almost like family, most of the night.
We ride that sleepless train until the stench seeps
from the rocking bathrooms into our skin
and the seats become stone.

Until, lost, we find ourselves in San Francisco,
startled sleepwalkers, awoken with greasy foreheads
and grimy clothes, sick with a dream-memory
of a world or an insomniac life
that never existed
except in transit.

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