Baby, I Was Born On A Train
You’re the rattletrap scream slapped on the smudge-slick walls, like murals murked with a copper glaze, as the horizon’s brushed with a mirage of distant painted mountains, some flat-topped and rubbed raw, the clay and creosote terrain like a valley on mars, bent crosses of ancient telephone-pole shadows on it and the scrub bush patchy in places on the streaks of flatland punctuated by these tiny hillocks of grassy yellows and burnt red, faces in the rubble of a thousand jagged rocks jutting out like rusty scars, and above giant stationary swaths of cloud hanging like discarded moth-eaten sheets, lonely semis plugging along on invisible roads in the midst of nothing, and the telephone wires racing along, and the sudden blur of a passing train in the shadow of yours, and then that slight slam and whisk and swoosh of it as you charge through the desert on a track in the middle of nothing. Through the dry-raindrop stained glass the squatting mounds of tree-laden hills roll, and the low-lying wiry stems of future tumbleweeds flail in the hunch of a light breeze. Mustard blurs and blowsy greens scuffle for breath in an instant’s spotty sea of blue-green. The Colorado river, lazy and sparkling, meanders away through the ghosts of boxcars and rocky debris. Windswept gullies striped from blood-red to roseate. The hitched pull of a turn. The gentle rocking gone to a thrust and yawing rumble of a switchback, and the tracks screech and whine as the whistle howls all’s well through a rain-splashed night. A thrashing well past midnight as the bunk slips and lunges, as you’re bumped and shook out of dreams to a coffin-low ceiling and gurney-like straps hemming you in. Spun and dazedly muddied into fits of half-turns and pillow-squashed horror, you balance your sanity on a burnt-out match tip. A constant turn that beckons your body close to the plastic cabin partition, and then a sweeping roar buried deep within the confines of night’s massive black curls. A crunched tilt, weary and dolorous, squints on borrowed sightlines, and you are sweaty and lost in a whirl’s list and bob. Staring tiredly into a blankness that borrows stars from your eyes and makes everything spin, you wind and unwind at once that spool of your life’s thread, and somewhere behind the thick pulled curtains the moon’s out there harvesting the sky’s leftovers, and you wish for rest and roll over, head still hung with bluebells and cedars and the golden sparkles of aspen leaves on the river. Rushing through forests on a dining car. Coffee cups jackhammering their saucers, silverware jostled from napkin to tablecloth, the puttering whine of it all: that high-pitched howling train whistle, the tracks’ metallic silver screech and bumpy plaints, and the discordant smattering of about two dozen getting-to-know-you conversations. A tacky glint of a seriousness that welds smiles into place, and you’re off and on to a lush sprint through treetops and gaping boulders in the hillside: a verdurous landscape littered with crackled red-yellow-orange leaves and the thick webs of a thousand cypress and cedar branches huddled and spread in massive bunches all the way up and down impossible-to-believe valleys and river-cut gorges. Moods waning gibbous in a felled tree’s former shade, and you’re chalking it all up to misery’s biding time in the duality of perspective’s constant flash and flurry, passing, always passing, always just ahead and a tad behind. Wider strains of being wise smile backwards while a protective coat of idiocy covers what’s left of the surface. The snack bar’s open late. Somewhere kindly beyond any cocktail you’ve ever known lies the path of most likely resistance. You are under a table. Hot dogs are served with mayonnaise and avocado. A few passengers have been thrown out an emergency exit marked For Conductor’s Use Only. There are kites tangled in the ceiling lights. You have become rather obsolete. Vast farmland stretches skimming by, tracts of light trapped and warped in sloped distance pull me into some very serious contemplation over my life, where it’s going, and to whom I am going to attach it. My jokes on loan for the night to an upstart ribbon salesman, reappearing loyal and jumpy to the rest of the at-hand mourners. To just say things to fall out of love over and over, to just hold rust-steady for making a jerky start at wildness. Hankering on to other Wyomings, I’m sold long, insufficiently interested in what others have got to say. Appended and lunky, very lorded over and sometimes serious. A honked horn of guilt stabbed blind in a rather ornery hurry that, let’s say, is making do. Let’s just say. Last time around everything was sloped. Vanishing acted its part. The men were less wise than they should’ve been. The yard sales lost their feathers. If the thread of steamed passiveness let on anything but the parts it never played, if the yearn of doubt overstayed its wellness, then a shallower cup might follow what’s left of now’s substance. Around this time or next I’ll be shoveling loose gravel from my smile onto somebody else’s road. Cramped quarters, narrow halls, stooped shoulders and a sailor’s mouth, fingerprint smudges on the window. Stirred and settled. The lights flicker. Nobody’s comfortable. A staticky voice crackles over the ceiling speakers: “Is it afar? Bought slowly. In chance per the leaving rate. You had us. It was wrapped in clover and bacon. There’s a cuss word I can’t guess. It’s putting up with. It’s jotting up too. We don’t dump coffee all over anything, except ourselves. Stronger still. Oil slicks what remains. Try to pass the rolls. We’ve got all the jelly in the world at our disposal. Bumped and brambled to stink alone. It is not beautiful.”
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