It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer
leaving New York alone at night has failed.
Consider this train traveler. November, twenty-eleven
Amtrak. Rain. Winter. Heart unraveling.
An all-but-empty car, trekking to north Vermont with nothing
but those two suitcases flanking his flat legs.
Two was the limit. He checked, then packed the max.
The left one stuffed with suits he’ll need for jobs.
Let’s reckon that one Hope.
The right-hand one looks back
to fireworks on the Hudson, Brooklyn roofs and mobs
of friends whose sublets all had too-small couches.
His final splurge some fries at Mickey D’s. Fifty bucks to last.
Call him Piecemeal. From this safe distant vantage,
watch him lumber, slack as he walks. His hands grope for function.
How easy it just was to blunder into gobs of classic tropes:
Borrowed ticket. Everything he owns.
Didn’t we remember him from…? Now humbler,
His life’s collapse a clangor barely fading.
Journey Into Fear by Eric Ambler, clutched unread
on Kindle. His books are back in boxes
so distant now they’ll never resurrect.
Black windows howl where each trite clack
births a twice-trite clickety.
His iPod chimes thirteen. No clocks, the internet
dead or disconnected. With no outlet,
the computer and the Kindle both are dying, and soon
with nothing to do, he’ll clamber to his limbs, a rickety stance
then lope to the bathroom off the deck.
He’ll knock, pull back the knob, look around
And wonder if this might be the site and second
To let his breakage echo forth; to try to cope
in this interior hangar where sobs can’t be detected.
If not this second, soon, in the next sixty. He is alone.
A train at night is timeless as a casino, its motion
a kind of Zeno’s Paradox, windows see no
trees, no sun, no heliotrope, no chickadees—
just grim grimed mirrors blinking back
at ghosts of the grief-stung feckless, wrecked against the reefs,
spilling off to Reno, Phoenix, Bangor, Schenectady—
the flow of folks who found this life complex
and stumbled. Their reckless husks form stacks.
See now how he stands, prepared to whimper, hand on a sink
But he can’t, because oh, the odor.
Some traveler before him–call him X—
Who flexed his lonely buttocks in this shack
then exited at Holyoke or Essex Junction
has left behind the specter of a stink.
The man who’s here now grimaces, says
“I guess I’m not alone,” says it out loud,
then thinks: This whole unhappy family is alike—
Gamblers, freaks for nicotine and vino,
perennial bobblers of sex and serendipity
who forever misgovern and never balance checks,
then flee on trains like this that can’t turn back.
The word for it: absquatulation. Squat is right.
And if there’s a word, there’s pattern; a definition
that offers its exemplars as an unction.
In this barreling bleakness now he remembers
Poe, dead of consumption; Joyce’s lack
of cash; Cezanne barred from his flat.
He adds up Bukowski, Melville, Chandler…
and gets to infinity, fact by bleak fact
plucked from history. Wait. What
was he here for? He tries for tears, but nope.
Perhaps too many shocks can dry the ducts.
He’ll try it later. Quivering with calm,
Now off he slopes, back to his seat to slumber
in the elbow-crook of archetype; hack’s shadow.
Reader, this carried him.