Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Winter Heilongjiang Train

     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.   


     Outside a rec hall dance
     in Devon, a Brit invites this Yankee
     sailor in a Harley hat to drink

     homemade rum.  My hangover clears
     in winter air whipped by a Triumph’s
     rush through roads carved

     into moors.  As an enclosed double-
     seater sidecar rocks my new
     friend’s wife and three daughters—

     five, seven, and nine—café
     racers wheelie past.  After
     kilometers, harried, the Scottish mom

     punches Plexiglas; I’m obliged.
     Better than a tilt-a-whirl, the sidecar
     bucks while English uplands scroll

     across windows.  The girls clamber
     front to back, climb their guest
     in a joyful rumble.  At a barn converted

     to a pub, we eat pasties.  I drink
     Guinness, then sleep beneath a quilt
     of kids when we cycle into dusk.

House Arrest

      I served reform where lords conform
     and shook the party’s tables, mobbed
     with famished youth I begged to leave     
     before their dreams were squashed by tanks,
     but shots and sirens laced with screams
     resounded through the capital.
     Confined at home by upset chairs,
     I gauged the wails. 
                                      Guarded now, I
     putt on the porch.  Inside I play
     chess with my wife, talk to cassettes
     our grandkid’s toys conceal, until
     my death, when cops beat friends who mourn
     outside; shrewd comrades run the tapes
     to foreign press who bind my words. 

When Sheena Delivers

     When Sheena cycles mail to offices
     uptown, she spins past gridlock, glides between
     commuters, flush beside delivery trucks,
     whose drivers spit tobacco.  Knobby treads
     graze tar, sling swill.  She leaps to curbs and weaves
     through crowds on sidewalks.  Mobs in lobbies drop
     their jaws as girl page hurdles turnstiles, jets
     up flights to suites where clerks in cubicles
     prepare reports and managers behind
     glass walls gulp gin.  While perspiration drips
     from Sheena’s Lycra trim, assistants prim
     in skirt suits tweak their beaks and sign receipts;       
     she winks and streaks to boulevards, where drones
     in cages rap their horns and clutch in vain.