A Missed Train
A few months ago, I read Ocean Vuong’s on earth we’re briefly gorgeous, an epistolary novel-poem, every word worth underlining. It reminded me of what I love about writing, about the speculative memoir of poetry. What follows are a few fragments of my truth rewritten, excerpts of love letters to friends, or letters I could have written to future strangers. It's not much yet, but maybe I'll keep adding to it. Variations on a theme: the longing of what if?
September, Senior Year. Leaves litter the edges of the streets, slick in their ochre half-rot, so we bike down the center of the road, shining. We serenade chipped paint porches with jazz standards as we weave slow, taking up both lanes, a single yellow line between us because the county hasn’t doubled yet. I joined jazz choir for you, I say. The club met before school, before the bus would get me into town, so I biked. Through a dozen sunrises, through a starling migration and cattle drive, through blizzards, through the wild-iris bloom of spring in the irrigation ditches. I can take off four layers from beneath my backpack while biking, without even slowing down. You don’t believe me, so, still singing, still weaving, I tug off my club sweatshirt, toss it to you, then my shirt. You veer catching—unused to biking with hands otherwise occupied—then whistle long as I grin, pedaling bare chested down the street, reddening like the fall. We brake at the park, dropping the bikes to browned grass and curb. It doesn’t count without a backpack, you tease, and, shivering, I run to wrestle yours off. A car parks, and I grab my clothes instead. We jog to the swings and watch kids trace the soccer field with their match. You hum, the swing set creaks, I feel the burn of numbness leaving my skin, the ache of chain pinching my fingers. So we listen. To the thump of the ball. To I’m open! I’m open! To wind chafing bare branches. To your song-stuck throat and my heart thumping slower each time we pass through the air.
I miss you like missing a train, as if I’m sitting at the empty station, waiting for you to draw near again.
Yesterday I told D that I love him without using any of those words. Well, maybe there was an “I”—How can we confess without implicating ourselves? I’ve just desperately wanted to confess my love lately. To everyone. To anyone. I want to love more and more and more until the words drown all wanting from my mouth.
Sometimes I dream yellow roses on lily pads. I wonder if rose water is made by absence of stem, by drowning.
The train, despite a sunken soundscape—deep basalt canyon walls winding its track—is too noisy to hear a lily burst open in the dark, or a mushroom push up through yellow soil.
Rainbows sweep the sprinklers on either farmland plateau
as a rust train winds through the canyon below: Old Highway
10. Matronly blackbirds in red shoulder pads nod and arc
on raised eyebrow wings, and the girl’s spattered Chevy
threads cliff to river and sky, each hill stitching
a barn quilt of orange and light-shattered green.
Because we were numerous, the developmental math class was re-assigned rooms, from Houser to the planetarium. All winter in the pre-dawn orange I chained my bike to a frost-bathed rack by the dome at 8:02AM and—late—sunk into movie theater seats to watch lectures rove like the still fading stars on the ceiling. You were there. But I didn’t notice until the final review. You shuffled down the dim aisle, feeling your way with your soles and, tentatively, took the seat next to me, where I nursed instant coffee from a soup thermos. Our knees brushed, gentle pressure as equations spiraled above us. Or maybe it was just a wrinkle in my jeans and a phantom hope for connection as you studied for the exam and I studied, peripheral, the back of your hand: gentle flexes manipulating a pencil, a freckle over the top knuckle, a scar over the middle knuckle, a shadow drowning the rest. When Professor J. flicked the lights on, you flickered out of focus and turned to pack your things. I know you for the back of your hand, and nothing more.