Reading Wanda Coleman on the California Zephyr

Monday, July 5, 2010

her sweet bebop a backdrop to floating white silos 
out the window, hoodoo ghosts on the Osceola stop.
Past the old car graveyard, then an orchard, dirt road/
black cow/black cow/how do we get around? 
So much country, how do we even know where to go?
4:30 AM bathroom break/I peek down the narrow train,
a man’s black shoe sticking out of a sleeper car, think
of all the train murders in movies. A minute later I’m
in the bathroom, the handle is jiggled hard, hard—
he’s there. I wait/it stops/look outside, the shoe is gone! 
I run back to Coleman: traveling the backside of the
underground/stranded where the cul-de-sac crosses/
the dead end.
Danger/anonymity, how each little town’s
the same from the train: road/signal/bar/car dealer
and earlier today a man and woman trip out of the 
Triangle Bar, she’s jerking her elbow from his hand, 
they’re fighting in Ottumwa on Saturday, 7.18.08 
with the California Zephyr watching. A woman lost
in the cracks in the big beautiful hole of America.
I’m sending a message to myself and the woman 
from the bar—Coleman says slavery’s been dead nigh 
a century/or more but i carry my chain everywhere.

We’re coming out of nowhere into the next nowhere.
Fog. whistle. banging. trees.
Houses in water up to picture windows,
garages left open, stains show levels 10 feet down,
still nowhere for the water to go after Midwest floods.
The attendant speaks as if from script:
ladies and gentlemen: 
you’ll see a lot of standing water 
on the right side of the train.
you’ll see that some white pelicans
have made this their new home.
what used to be farmland is now a lake . . .

Sandbags stacked to hold the Mississippi, rail ties litter
tracks like fat sticks—where are the people?
Over the brown gargantuan
Mississippi into Iowa, over the timber trestle,
I thought of the dead workers who made this, then looked
at the swirling water below, so alive.
The woman in the dining car said:
This is America the beautiful.
I’m a romantic
, she said.
Big logs of cars, tankers topped by green and yellow
lights that look like they’re sitting on top of them
but really miles off—so many things miles off:
my husband at home with his kindness—
Time is alive and dead: the small red farmhouse,
aluminum silo, the narrow green sign.
Oil derrick in the distance, poking down
into ground like a crow.
Big scaffolds of electrical poles like Darth Vader heads:
outcroppings, outjuttings, as if something couldn’t
wait another moment to spring into the above-ground world.
Why is there only 1 tree, then 1 tree?
So much about edges out here—fenceline,
tracklines, berm, footpath by the berm,
fieldlines with road in-between. demarcation.
It names us.
Past/present, where we walk, where grass meets dirt/
where we end up.
A man is getting his mail, cornfields cornfields,
islands of trees midfield, house in the distance.
Retired railcars in the town of Creston with a plaque.
Iowa needs some Wanda Coleman. Soon the hills mound up
as we get closer to the Continental Divide—still 
three hundred miles away, but the ground starting to shape differently.
So much under us unsaid.
This train makes me think of my birth father, 
alive in Boston, the walking around in nothingness,
the suspension and the glide.
How I look like him but don’t know him.
I always loved the foothills and the low brush—
Out the window, the ground sloping and rising.
I don’t want to miss anything.
Why has he come to me now
on this train in the middle of my life?
The feeling of space but something’s coming:
a train right next to us whooshing in the other direction
single house with a light on.

Thursday, July 1, 2010