In the Lamy train station, passengers lean stiff
hips against wooden benches. Hear that old creak.
An attendant heaves my green trunk onto an antique
scale made of wood and iron—its needle leaps,
then floats between two numbers and their tiny arrows.
A pickup in the distance drags a cloud of dust
down the road, its motion slowed by our shared direction.
Alongside us run the freight lines—all the trains
shaped like their toys, except the graffiti covering
the red and silver siding. The Santa Fe logo in a font
I recognize like familiar handwriting.
Out here, each creosote thinks it’s a crown.
Our train’s approach sends
sand hill cranes into the sky
where they wheel like lazy kites
as another desert sunset burns
on the horizon like a Catholic heart.
In the gorge that ran down from Picacho Peak,
the cattle bones scared me
to the marrow: a cow crumpled
as if fallen from the sky. I kicked
the ribcage and it rolled onto its back,
I walked home warily
tracing the bumps
that make up my elbow.
Clouds smoldered like embers in the fading sky
behind Mom watering the fruit trees.
I let her tell me stories about distant cousins, thinking
of death all along, how it meant the earth
would rearrange my body any way it pleased.
As the train rocks on the curves,
I look back to the yellow lights
of the windows behind me.
We probably move through
night like a gold wand.
When I was six, a lizard
I grabbed left its tail
squirming in my pinched fingers.
With a timid guilt I told Mom, and she said,
It’ll grow back, Hon. So I punched holes
in the lid of a mason jar, placed
the tail inside and waited,
but the lizard never reappeared.
After 14 hours sitting upright I’m
half crazed that these cabin seats
don’t recline. The battery in my cheap
reading light fades, along with every
word in my precious journal.
Running down an arroyo I fell
and scraped open my left palm—
grey dust smeared
into the red of blood—
I felt another desert
inside me, an aching
dryness and a panic
for water from our green garden hose.
Mom, I think of telling you
a hundred things I never have
in every voice I’ve ever owned,
everything I’ve kept from you
for little or no reason,
and in my chest
an orchard is flooding.
Outside the window’s cold glass, darkness
soaks the creosotes, but in my head
I’m blinking under the bright green
of your fruit trees’ shaggy leaves.
The cabin fills with warm air
and long breaths exhaled in sleep.
The wheels click louder on the curves
as we move, motionless
inside this tremendous speed.
W. Vandoren Wheeler was born in Las Cruces, NM. He lives and teaches in Portland, OR.
*Photo by Jack Delano. Courtesy of Library of Congress.