The Train to Where

This work builds on Rafael Campo’s Diva Elegy and the recurring theme of having an almost sexual bond with one’s homeland and where that might be rooted. Then, dealing with the anxiety of self-discovery with the help of a mysterious woman.

 

Jon gripped the rails of the caboose as the steam train dragged him away from his mother. The same tracks he’d grown up around were a straight shot out of town and into wondrous imagination…or at least Nebraska. Lawden Kansas didn’t move, it just shrank. His heart caught in his throat to think of them caught in that shrinking town. How will they survive? Mom, dad, my sister? Francis?

Hushed thoughts of Francis. Locomotive rage drowned them or furious wind carried them, away to dusty flatness where they would die. And after a moment of mourning, they would be born again in his dreams that evening. Francis. His thin straw-colored hair forecasting the wind. The light in his eyes – siphoned the blue from the sky. His laugh…their laugh, them, together. Playing Cavalry and Indians and end up wrestling. Did Francis ever notice?

The caboose door swung inwards and the engineer told Jon to get inside because they were coming up on the Great Bend. Jon stole one last glance at home as the train tracks turned and the world became unstable under his feet.

He made his way to a fancy car on the train. The smell of cigars and liquor rushed to his gut and made it sour. The thunder beneath his feet shook him and made his bones hurt. A woman with color on her face took pity and smiled at him, got him a wooden cup with a shanty. He nodded his thanks.

He nursed his cup as a woman standing next to a piano sang songs to no one in particular. She sang about the man who left her, then about the man she left. She sang about home, of leaving it behind, and of going back to it. She sang about love, and how it shined so bright and brought people to their knees. She had a burn scar on her arm and she wore color on her face.

Jon listened until he felt like he was the only person there and that she was singing only to him. The train floated on a cloud in total silence. He listened until she stopped. He wanted to clap but he was afraid. Instead he got up, embarrassed by how much he wanted to say something and upset at how he couldn’t. As he put down his cup he looked up and the woman caught his eye, and she winked.

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