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THE PASSENGER

slowly her hands loosened
her muscles collapsing
against the lavender seat
the warmth of blood flowing
to tired legs and knees
tingling her feet -
draining the knots 
in neck and shoulders
easing the pulse until 
all is lost … all is lost

empty now–empty now

no more wheels scraping 
iron rails or nerves
swollen eyelids closing
wet with visions
too new to be nostalgic
turning steadily 
over and over – with 
the clank – clank – clank
of rusted dreams 
and broken promises
rattling memories 
of yesterday’s
sweet – sweet sorrows …

memories of a young girl
maybe eight or so …
with bouncing ponytails 
carved along a perfect path
by her gray-haired mother’s 
steady hand … and the tail-end 
of the pointed styling comb
neatly fastened with red bows
to match the plaid dress, 
white pinafore,

and neatly cuffed ankle-sox

inside a-size-too-large 
Buster Browns

some older cousin 
had passed down
each paper-stuffed shoe 
carefully placed -

one foot in front of the other
crisscrossing rail to rail
thin suntanned arms
wiggling and jiggling

keeping the rhythm
keeping the balance

of one too young to know
where she goes … or why?

trying only to go the distance
one foot in front of the other
staring straight ahead
never down– never back
daring fate with arms crossed
brows crunched -
closing out the trees 
looming along the sides 
of the weed covered tracks
where cargo trains once…

ratt-a-tatt-tatted
ratt-a-tatt-tatted

and several make-shift 
hobo homesteads leaned
with boxes stacked to hug
the trash fed fires built

to keep them warm -

to keep them alive

as fierce nor’easters 
forced their shanties
closer to the city’s edge

where factory horns blasted
and left-over crumbs 
were tossed to any 
beggar’s hand 
or swooping gulls
that scavaged 
the loading docks
and corporate-paved 
parking lots

staring straight ahead
never down … never back

carefully crisscrossing
rusted rail to rusted rail
with quickened steps
and narrowed eyes
her Buster Brown’s stepped
one foot in front of the other

drifting slowly back
she listened to the train’s 
sing-song humming 
rum.. rum.. rumbling along
coach cars shackled by iron claws
clack … clack … clacking
grinding against heated rails
nudging her soul back 
to the cool dampness
of the cracked leather seat
half-awake — half-asleep

wheels and rails –
wheels and rails –
rolling … rolling …

sliding far too quickly
past familiar fields 
and forgotten hills
sinking into the azure 
of the new horizon
squeezed tightly 
between each wrinkle, 
each line of face after face
painfully etched in crevices 
long ago forged on the lens 
of her mind’s-eye

weaving – back and forth 
back — and — forth
through trails of row houses
mounds of litter, whizzing past 
nightmares and frozen guilt
collected year after year – 
after year – after year

wanting only to return 
to ponytails, Buster Browns 
and walks along the tracks …
staring straight ahead
never down– never back

one foot in front of the other
trying only to go the distance

keeping the rhythm – 
keeping the balance -

of one too old to know …
where she goes … or why?

just closing tired eyes
resting her head
on cool leather seats … 
waiting
for the shrill 
of the train’s…. warning whistles!

 MarySusan Williams Migneault

Copyright ©1987 rev 2003/2012

Note: The Passenger was handwritten in a journal on a twelve-hour train ride from Boston’s South Station to Penn Station in Baltimore, MD., and it has become the signature piece for RoadHousePress that was founded not very long after this life-changing trip to Baltimore to see a young friend of mine, Mark Ronald Dalbow (PA) who appeared in my life at a time when I was on the brink of self-destruction and circumstances of great hardship. I will be grateful to Mark eternally for the assistance he gave to both me and my family. If it were not for him I would not have lived to found RoadHousePress (which is a whole other story for another day). This poem will always remain dedicated to you Schmedly.. where-ever you are! ~ MarySusan

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