Four poems by Christine Potter

Alone On The Train

The best of it is a book in
your own room and daylight
to read it by: white, clear,
West-of-Chicago light, pages

luminous as clouds with
the sun behind them, a thin
sheet of them leveling out
the early afternoon. No one

memorable in the dining car
at lunch, No Service in the upper
left corner of your cell phone,
almost no shadows anywhere.

It’s like taking a shower in sky
and the absence of speech. Words
come easily to the eye, easily to
the page you are now writing,

having closed the book and begun
to click the keys. You’ll end up
home, and the sun will set earlier
than when you left. You will plan

meals, load the washer. But
now the train is the cloister you
dreamed of at nine and you are
a heroic nun, graceful and

unquestioned, your holiness
easily apparent, the train
strung together like rosary beads
slipping through your steady hands.

The Train In Mountains At Night

By the time we got there, it was dark; darkness
had risen out of the shadows and swallowed
even the mountains. Then the mountains rose

in front of the train until it curled around them
like the tail around a sleeping cat. I don’t know
what woke me up. Maybe I felt the altitude.

I wanted to see snow, but there was nothing
but the rocking of my bed and bottomless night.
I thought of developing film when I was twelve,

how much will it took to kill the ceiling light
in my father’s darkroom. Even The Beatles
on WMCA couldn’t convince me the world was

still there as I coiled my pictures into a jug
of vinegary chemicals, closing and opening
my eyes just to prove there was no difference.

Outside the train, trees and little towns must
have slipped by in the chimney-smoke cold,
undeveloped, swimming through their dreams,

the pines’ furry branches nodding to the roofs
of houses, a yellow kitchen light left on over
someone’s sink, too far from the tracks to see.

Lunch on City Island, Early June

We sat outside. Noon leaked through rain a long way off,
grew quiet and then quieter as light can, even falling
on vinyl palm trees wired with light-up coconuts. Silver,
white, a splash of brown; the Sound was the color of every

gull circling it, and rippled with coming weather. Still wearing
a graduation gown that puffed behind her like a black sail,
a young woman carried a plate piled with fried fish, and sat
at a table near us. You bought me an overfilled plastic glass

of white wine pale as tap water, which turned out to somehow
be delicious, or at least made me notice how richly green
the trees were, how ancient, tangled with each other, and
numerous as the generations of my family whose lives

were spent near this city. Then I was content, even though
not an hour ago, my mother had refused to see her doctor,
had narrowed her eyes at me over taking her pills, but
looked cheerful if confused when I finally left her house.

So I told you about my friend Zack, who said he’d once
put down the top of his convertible to drive on a huge
blue day to a class reunion, when the brilliance or perhaps
weight of the sky overwhelmed him and he was actually

frightened. It was funny in the telling, but now I know
the truth of such burdens, their unexpected heft. Of course,
he kept going. What choice is there? A quick gust snatched
my napkin, which floated past my hands into the Sound

and dissolved. Calamari, fried shrimp, clouds dull as
chain-link fences. So many apartments across the water,
so many cars lined up on the road. Red and green lights.
The hush of doctors’ offices. And rain coming, coming rain.

Hometown

Sunset light on squat brick buildings from
the 1920’s: square, no-nonsense store fronts.
Long-legged teenagers walk like cut-loose
marionettes, heads down, in twos and threes—

clumps of them hunched under backpacks,
spilling into traffic. I am either their age or
my own, but it doesn’t matter because all
I can remember is joy. Joy in the silence

before my parents got home from work,
the moment before the needle dropped
onto the LP. Before passing time limited
the size of the world, or the prickly caress

of this cold afternoon, my winter coat
stiff from the dry cleaner’s. I can still
hear the record: Simon and Garfunkel or
Vivaldi and now the sun is down behind

the Palisades. Pink air and bare trees
like leaded glass. I must be some age or
another, in my bedroom, alone at home.
I must be hungry and not even know it.

About the author

Christine Potter has gone back and forth across the US without an airplane more times than she can say. She's flown, too, but lately…

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Issue 22 · April 2015

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