Three Poems


The Old West is a Dangerous Place for someone like--

the way I dress, my independence ( as a female),
my long black coat a flag
waving at every asshole redneck.
I slept curled up on two seats both footrests up--
my two black coats for blankets. I can't sleep this first night
I thought--but dozed off around midnight. (I'd started the day at 5:30 a.m.)
Woke every hour--at Salt Lake, at Provo Utah.
Got about 6 hours sleep, total. At nine I brushed my hair,
put on clean tights( in the bathroom) & makeup
got a cup of coffee.
The second day on board, departure from San Francisco
just crossed the Utah border into Colorado.
Both women and men on the train made comments
on my vintage coat, they liked it, "It's adorable."
But then that old asshole, "god, is it Halloween," he'd said
extremely loud. A little earlier he'd bored me with some
news story about a woman who'd spilled a cup of
hot coffee on her chest at McDonalds, then sued for
millions of dollars..."Remember that?" he'd asked,
signaling his limited experiences and assumptions--
breathing his breathy drunken stench all over me
first thing in the morning. I'd tried to put him off with
politeness--that didn't work. I'd already given myself
that talk inside my head, about practicing manners now,
out here in the world again.
"Hey Zorro!" the old fuck called out at me--loud.
I pass him ignoring his remark--there was only ten minutes
to locate the fruit stand
in the middle of the Grand Junction station platform--
wait in line, buy something and get back on the train.
A banana for fifty cents-- a lot cheaper than Amtrak food
I was tired of...already. (fresher)
After the fruit stand, I stepped into a little station shop
that had candy bars and a display case of fake turquoise
jewelry. I bought peanut butter cups, and on my way out
noticed a sign *Free Coffee* -- pouring myself a cup
when the old asshole came up behind me...
"Hey, Zorro. Why don't you have your mask on?"
"I do." I told him, walking away leaving him puzzled.
Back in my seat, train moving again
he stealths up, bends close in over my shoulder
"you have nice handwriting..." he breathes all over
one side of my neck, placing his hand on my arm.
I turn my page over. When he's gone take up my
writing again--squiggling & jerky black juicy ink
flow in abrupt unintended directions as the train car rocks
swerves and balances. He's right up on my neck again,
his hand patting the shoulder of my velvet coat...
"I wasn't spying on you..." he said.
Don't know where he went after that--
I open a book, read the first few brief chapters of
Maggy Cassady--he won't interrupt me when
I'm reading, I thought. Damn, I feel hungry
(even after the banana and peanut butter cups)
nothing much to do on this train. I descend the
stairs to the subterranean snack lounge--
he won't find me down here. But then there's the other
annoying guy--kept talking to me--saying things--
trying to start a conversation, but polite, not too pushy--
he's drinking Coronas down there--I sat off in a corner
eating a hot pepperoni pizza--he glanced back in my direction
then turned, that's when I noticed his oval bald spot
combed over with long hair--maybe he's the kind of guy
who'd gotten lucky a few times just hanging around
in bars minding his manners with the ladies--
till one just in the right mood, neediness--at that necessary
level of intoxication...
I hurried past, swishing my long coat and dress back up
the narrow stairs--so much of my life avoiding
people I know and the ones I don't care to...
I'm the only woman on the train wearing a dress.
All those unworked wide slack asses
making their way up the aisle
in pale denim topped by nylon windbreakers--
red neck women ( god, I despise that lack of style)
To have no style makes them proud, feel
right, American--good about themselves and
yet that old fuck's woman, a faded beauty
in everyday overalls cringing under
his aggressive thumb.
I felt sorry for her--and yet he's the man
she'd chosen.
My mask--pretending--letting them all see
what they wanted, while concealing
the foul-mouthed, hardened, street-wizened
woman just leaving the end of ten years
ghetto living--entered in 1995 after
traveling around the world. I reminded myself
to put my best manners forward --- I could see
in my imagination shocked looks on the faces of
women on this train, if what I really thought came out
of my mouth. Why waste it on them anyway.
I'm riding to Chicago where I'll get off and never see
these people again--
I am not out to change their thinking...
they can give me something--material
for my writing--buy me a meal--I'm the "dude"--
the "city slicker"
be cool I tell myself
read a book--
look out the the scenery.
I even sat in the observation car for a while
thru remote Colorado--canyons, river
Bald eagles, deer, elk...lots of animal tracks
in the snow. That second day, ate as little as
possible--rice crispies for breakfast--
dinner of eggplant ravioli--snow peaked mountain
scenery thru dining car window.
In Denver I got off and hurried along the long platform
to the huge old station building--just to use
a non-swaying toilet. Then returned to my seat as
new passengers poured on and I nearly have to give
up half my sleeping space---read some more--
now only 9 p.m. -- getting tired again
want to turn off the overhead reading light
before someone figures out I have 2 seats--
strange people talking so loud on cell phones
in ways totally unacceptable in San Francisco--
all these rednecks and non-creative types
I'm starting to feel so out of place & scared
at what irrevocable thing I've done to myself
yet thankful to have escaped that ghetto shit hole--
The older redneck guys invoke their authority
as elder with the young 20ish redneck type boys
"Are you two boyfriend and girlfriend or just friends?"
I hear the meaty voice in seats behind me
& the dutiful response..."we've known each other since
kids in school..." The girl had been singing outloud
just before, to the recorded song only she could hear
thru her headphones..."there ain't no covercharge...
boys and girls know how to get-down on the farm..."
More deep-voiced questions..."going to work or going
to school?" The word culinary in the reply. The young guy
liked to cook with his father grilling meats & veggies
while the mother worked on the desserts...
"What do you cook best?"
The young guy made thought sounds with his voice
then answers...chicken with lemon...
and orange the girl interjected then praised his
fancy mixed together vegetables too
The old redneck told them..."my wife cooks
pork chops with onion & then adds a can of
mushroom soup! That is so-o-o-o good!"
Geez. That stale old recipe of cream of mushroom
canned soup white trash sauce secret
those rednecks all thought so highly original...
Fuck! I think it's been published a jillion times
in Readers Digest or someplace...
Embarrassed silence from the young man chef.
That gap that makes communication unnecessary--
futile even--impossible without insults.
Same with that distance between poet/performer me
in long vintage black and that rude crude old
asshole redneck who called me Zorro so many times
I'd spent my evening thoughts planning on
going to one of the train conductors
to complain of sexual harassment...
but by morning most of the passengers had detrained
in Nebraska, where they belonged. The absence of my
redneck terrorizer & his strangely staring wife
left a nice calm emptiness in all the train cars
as I warily moved toward a cup of coffee.
He had definitely gotten off. The train crossed on a bridge
over the Mississippi. I started feeling better--calm,
more positive. That wasteland before and after the gorgeous Rockies--
that dusty dead area that bred his sort,
long behind me--I'd escaped. I'd been so out of place
in that neck of the woods. Flashing now on the dudes
emerging from stage coaches of the old west
in ruffled shirt fronts--locals firing bullets at their feet
raucous laughter of the low-life drunks,
until the hero intervenes.
I'm *the dude* the *city slicker*
the wild west redneck that had so oddly filled this train
for a day and night feels uncomfortable
too near the Mississippi River borderland
the *East* beyond--my hero, space and time
the continued push eastward toward more intellect,
style, civilization--things I feel comfortable with...
I'd be in Chicago by 4 p.m.
5 hours to kill there before boarding the last train
at ten...


Marie Kazalia, aboard the California Zephyr
3/4, 3/5, & 3/6/2K5














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