You’ve never really travelled, until you take the train
over trestles, under mountains, moving with your mother
under caverns of the sky, your measured steps, with every boot
are like the wheels of this great worm you ride. Peel another orange
rolling westward with the sun, “and be a dear and get another Scotch.”
Every goddamn time, she wants another Scotch and water.
In windows filled with passing scenes of wonders carved by water,
“nature scenes” as seen at 90 mph aboard a train,
and all she thinks about is, can I get another Scotch.
Days and miles slide below our wheels as I – and my mother –
as we rail against the passing time, the sunset turning orange
revealing nothing of the truth of travel, save my dusty boots.
“Knew dat fancy footgear’d do yer good,” she pointed at my boots,
passing for her cowboy bit, and masking sounds of water.
Later I would find the bottle, empty, looking for another orange
and I’d know this was the last trip, the last time, the last train.
Clear now, sure, but time then all I knew then was the Train, this Mother
even of my mother, the mighty parent of the rails, who could scotch,
if need be, perhaps the deepest wounds. Mother found her solace in her Scotch,
train be damned, she’d say, “there’s more spirit in the sole of my boot,
in the dirt in the sole of my boot, than this godforsaken locomotive,” mother
said, between sleeping and drinking. But as we trestled o’re the waters,
paths for sailors where they intersect across the country of the train,
I knew the pull of the Iron Road, I felt the call of rust, the orange
that blooms from iron as it stands next to the water, the burnt orange
call of rails left unused too long. The iron horse could never scotch
her pain – those cuts too deep for me to delve or comprehend – but the train
became my way, a chance for travel and escape, running to – and running from, to boot.
Looking back, I think she knew, as we gazed down at the water,
as the distance grew between us, that those rails were now my father, and my Mother
couldn’t help but be the engine, swiftly eating land beneath us, with my mother
killing time and herself slowly, another bottle and let’s peel another orange.
Youth is wasted on the young, they say, and Scotch and water’s
only for the old; acquired taste acquired by filing down your tongue and scotching
up your taste buds – her drinks to me had always tasted faintly of my boots.
Another orange, another drink, another day a week a life upon the train.
Ride this iron horse over land and over water, with my hand and with my mother,
ever knowing without knowing that these train tracks were my parents, rusted orange
lines meet at the horizon as I pour another Scotch, and peel an orange for her, to boot.
I recall those days like yesterday, like last week, as if that run,
knowing it must end, had never. Like a memory wrapped in foil,
each day knowing that it will not last forever, or what’s the point?
Lasting for all time would be a waste, would lose the joy.
You never get a second take. You never get a second take.
Take a second to consider, as you turn your neck to crane
out of the train car at the passing flatlands, rolling past a crane
bedeviling a fish, as cranes are wont to do. The fishes try to run
even once they’re caught up in the beak, but the birds enjoy their take.
Eating like a bird, she used to say, and you, her perfect foil,
ate like that crane, just to piss her off. You were her joy,
that much is sure. You’ll say we both were, I know, beside the point,
ever the peacemaker, weren’t you, and what the hell’s the point?
Never mind that now. No second chances now, as we watch the wrecking crane,
big ball swinging toward that stupid flat we lived in without joy.
You know you’re glad to see it go, memories now with nowhere left to run,
at last just dust, from dust and to, and good riddance to the lot. As a foil
gone at last, we are free to see ourselves as only us. It has nothing more to take.
Returning to my point, you never get a second take
unless you’re living in the past, reprising and revising, scoring point for point,
emboldened by the notion you can somehow change the past and foil
whosoever laid the plot against you, your cursed destiny. The crane
in the marsh with the fish in his beak does not re-run
the mistakes of his past, the one that got away. He lives with joy.
He lives for the moment, the simple life, memories of pain and joy
gone with the passing wind, the passing train. You never get a second take.
Under all these words, a message left from her: Run!
Run like the world would chase you, run for the joy, run like the point
guard she loved to watch you play in high school. Run as if that crane
leveling the old place was coming for you next, and the only way to foil
it was to run! Don’t look back. Keep your memories wrapped in the foil
night provides, unwrapping them in dreams, but awake, run toward joy.
God, you know I think that’s what she wanted us to know, as I crane
neck and psyche for some meaning in her final words, her last take
on that train. You never get a second take, that was her point,
I think, and so the best life we can live is one we run.
Someday again I’ll see that crane, wrapped up in my nightly foil,
ever leveling the flat where we would run from what was never joy.
Seeing it again, a second take: I see your point.