The dance we do, two partners holding
a thin sheet of paper between them, no hands,
just bodies aware of that small bit of substance,
mute as snow, drifting not crashing
into the weight of it;
The dance we do locks eyes and hearts as one
small thing, defining us, still unique, this closeness;
The space of a thin sheet of paper we do not drop,
it does not shift about but holds its own potential
there in the dark or in the light; no writing, no
scribble, no pictures, no definable substance;
It is blank but visible always, this thin sheet
of paper, fragile as an icicle, smooth as the surface
tension of water, strong as the atom and equally
Communication is composition,
ideally orchestrated if fortuitous enough
to grasp one another by our carefully
Yet too often in bright headlamps
of passing thought trains, we stand
transfixed, unable to move forward
or back, confused and confounded,
misconstrued meaning having wrung us
flat through slight inflection, unintended
direction; our own mind grasping
that tempting baton and running directly
to the finish, team long forgotten,
striding solo in self imposed isolation,
owing sadly to misinformation.
Adrift in a sea of fog; no sign
of shore nor sounds of waves lapping;
only maddening silence.
I cry out for a god but hear
only my own echo, a desperate voice
of desire flung on the shoals
of a ghost land.
The life I have constructed is crumbling.
The new has yet to unfold;
the whys, hows and wherefores vanish
As kids we called it chicken water, cast
upon blistering asphalt, cutting
through endless miles of low desert scrub;
sunrise, sunset, nothing changed fast
enough for us then.
Now here I write from the comfort
of my chair miles from those desert sands;
yet and still, the road beckons.
Caked earth yields to concrete laid
down everywhere to accommodate
our leave-taking. My dry mouth waters
at the approaching oasis,
as nearer it appears and nearer;
~ bj 2001, bj image Upolu Pt., 2006
Swaying with the rhythm of the rails, today’s trains glide rather than clack along the tracks. In 1925, Southern Pacific was contracted to build a railroad spanning from Roseville, California to Springfield Junction, Oregon near the town of Eugene. This feat of engineering surpasses the imagination: men with picks and hammers, the ringing of iron, and the leaching of sweat and blood from their pores. Memory frames such as these are rarely conjured by most passengers. Instead they stagger from car to car on unsteady sea legs to feast on provender or panorama, occasionally guzzling far too much booze. One woman in particular on this train has become loud and inebriated. Attired from head to toe in white, her small frame weighed down by too much gold jewelry, she brags about her PhD in English Literature. In slurred parlance unusual for the decorum of the average elderly university professor, I silently question the veracity of her assertion. Others gaze at the magnificent scenery, while passing under tunnel after cool tunnel, carved through mountain upon mountain. Old telegraph wires bisect the beauty of vast lakes and rivers pooled at the foot of the Cascades. Apparently the cost of taking them down trumps any improvement in the majesty of the view.
The Conductor strikes up a conversation with a few of us in the Parlour Car. His retirement is imminent, and he is anxious to get into his wood shop and create things of beauty doubtlessly inspired by twenty years on this particular run. Pointing out grazing grounds for deer and elk, he pauses to indicate a hillside that collapsed onto the train a year ago, taking out tall fir and pines along with their giant root systems. Tumbling downhill onto the moving train, miraculously no one was hurt. They had to detach some cars and move the debris, then move the cars again. In an offhand manner, he pulls out his wallet and shows me a black and white photograph of his Los Angeles policeman father, killed in the line of duty when his boy was seven years old. Buddies of his dad on the force stepped in to replace the irreplaceable, and he recalls with fondness: I lost a dad, but gained over a hundred of them.