Once, I took a train from Chicago to Salt Lake City
west of the plains, into the mountains
and from the Great Divide onward there were phone cables
suspended from wooden crosses the whole rest of the way
not towers or poles that sort of looked like crosses
but actual, old fashioned wooden planks nailed together
at right angles, and as the train rose and fell around corners
through tunnels plunging into valleys, they never left my sight
I looked out my long window
and as we passed, imagined a different person crucified to each one.
I didn’t mean to, but whether I wanted them or not
they were just there, black silhouettes mostly
limp and casual
but some were clear, with faces easily discernible
torment and apathy alike
I lost my breath as color scattered
over the dirt and the hills and the green things
where mountains became atmosphere
and the horizon lost definition
rails and ties, and hundreds and hundreds of wooden crosses
with imaginary carpenters, and faces like my father’s
dangling from their old splintery spines.
We travel through life like a slow train
love, can sometimes feel like death
and miscommunication is often blood on the tracks
you know that you love something
when you’re scared to lose it
and I’m afraid
because I don’t wanna lose anyone else
don’t wanna let anybody else go
don’t want to pass these judgments
hanging from their boards
looking down on me anymore
as this unstoppable freight carries us past
pinning every moment I couldn’t hold onto
my weak palms and awkward embraces
it all comes back
every young girl who wanted a friend
but got a half listening agenda engine instead.
each wide-eyed hopeful who thought I might be a hero without strings
but found me suited no different than any other stupid human in debt
every long time friend whose tracks I thought would always run parallel to mine
every lover I failed, every mother I let down
each birthday I forgot, all the phone calls I should’ve made
they’re all here, each jury is a 12 foot high wooden sentinel
baring thick cables on its back like whips that stay
and I pass every pew like a pub crawl of guilty verdicts
like I’m rollin’ through just in time to hear each gavel fall.
It’s all here, along with the live current
of a thousand other land locked voices
rushing through the river guts of this track
and this train and this thistle
1400 miles from Chicago to Salt Lake
it’s like a lifetime. Here is a woman who turned
and looked down into some valley
when she was supposed only to follow.
Here is a man without ambition or drive
he just wanted to build things and get paid enough to live.
This is the family who loved him
but wished he understood compromise,
Here is every employer who thought him simple,
and the officer who with thick fists and black gloves
who took him drunk to the basement
ripped his shoulders shirtless
but held off from administering the beating
when he saw the pot belly and narrow chest.
Here are all the mothers, and all the destroyers
every creator and every betrayer
Here are the bomb builders and bullet casters
the button pushers, architects of madness
and the alchemy of radiation
Here are the youth, and the souls of every person
who left somebody they were still in love with.
Each judgment, like a milestone every five hundred yards
and I wiped my eyes like a lifetime.
It did not end in a lake of salt
that’s just where I got off.
Donors will receive a digital copy of this poem.