Desires of Unknown Origins

by Benjamin Katz

there is something about an old weathered farmhouse
slanting with the land, roof caving in,
that makes me want to jump off the train and
               roll down the hill and

build a life here.

I feel there could be answers
here, where the land is low, fields wide and skies open,
everything that is hidden must be
hidden in plain sight.

there is something about it, and yet, I remain
in my seat. to my left, a man wakes with a start, fears he has
missed his stop. across the aisle, a woman lets her heavy head
fall on the shoulder of a stranger.

outside my window the world spins,
               blurry images on an
               old-time movie reel, since dented and forgotten

our eyes: fixed on our laps, our seat-cushions,
our garbage-laden tray tables

aboard this vessel, I am no longer of this world. I am
surging through it, against it,
each town an eyeblink,
my own face unseeable from outside
diesel fuel and station coffee, now lukewarm,
fill my veins.

four hundred miles to go and I have to wonder—
how far can steel beams bend before they break?
outside the station in a dirt-road, two-street town,
they warp and bow under the weight of passing trains
the ground heaves, gravel jumps and
sputters in its wake.

               and that is only what the eye can see.

there is a trembling inside—invisible, electric.
my feet fuse to the floor of the car
and they, too, rattle against the earth,
kick up dirt and gravel,
grate against rusting metal, strip it silver

it is barely morning, the world still cold and hazy-eyed
when everyone ambles onto the platform
for their fifteen-minute 6 am cigarette
maybe it is the strangeness of this place,
               or the stillness,
                              or the solitude,
that urges me to claim this desperate ritual,
to feel the cool air on my face,
to part my lips and suck

if I gave in, exhaled,
would I become a Marlboro Man?
would my hands grow rough and knowing,
would the low skies open up and swallow me whole?
or would I shuffle back aboard moments later,

one hundred miles to go, and I
wonder still. The tracks are rough now, and
the car sways to a jagged rhythm, each breath shallow.

hands brushing the backs of headrests,
I walk the length of the car, then back
at the exit, I PUSH where it tells me to, grip the
candy-striped handles as leaning tracks test my balance

the gangway: slick with rain beneath my shoes, the squeak of
rubber soles on metal like whining train-on-track below
my knuckles: white as stripes on the safety grips, the only
stable things in sight

my stomach: shaking earth, sputtering gravel

everything: howling

then, we clear the turn. the train rights itself.
I push the next door open and I am under glass again.
families stare out panoramic windows like
television screens—eyes glazed over, hands in the popcorn bowl

I walk the length of this car, then back. I see
dark clouds and the first hints of higher ground. I see
sunken land, more empty houses caving in.

and then we blink, and then they’re gone.

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