Bound in layered winter gear,
loaded with New Year’s gifts,
the anxious throng jams turnstiles
to burst into corridors,
bounce luggage down stairways,
swarm across platforms,
and pack the train’s vestibules,
where standees like me pile up
like crushed butt filters.
The concrete pillars of Harbin
creep away. Inside this pleated
foyer, cigarette smoke wrinkles
ice on windows, distorts brown bricks
of trackside slums as speed builds.
Chain puffers chatter; some save
my name on their cells. Between
the cargo squeezed in the haze,
vendors wedge carts heaped with snacks.
Toward reunion we ride
through the fog of sub-zero temps
outside. Trees in straight rows abide
in cryogenic stupors.
At remote stations, rigid
sentries mind empty yards. Austere
villages bare no distinct paths.
Wiping over frozen sands
of excavated hills, squalls cast
snows into mountainside mineshafts,
colossal maws beneath which
monstrous earthmovers rust.
Along with ceaseless rumbles
that sporadic bangs complement,
rhythmic jostles backed
by cushioned jolts quiet,
though drafts chill the huddled,
while desolation remains,
and destinations close on dreams.