My bowl brimming with pretzels,
the snack you wanted least,
I slid open the door of our sleeping car
where we had been enjoying the country rushing by,
as if we were the first two people
to look down into the valleys and see
bright necks of pines stretch across farms
and streams to the groves they once cradled.
You had asked for Earl Grey cookies
sandwiched around buttercream or marshmallows
made of chocolate, but all the tea bags had been dunked
and the chocolate melted over biscotti.
When I came bearing the salted and twisted news,
the room was empty but for a heel. It was black
as a bunting, and wound with zippers,
and every time the car rocked
it looked ready to fly and escape
into the cold, tangled air
of travel that always feels heavy
with joy and desire, and a little sadness,
always a little sadness,
because of the leaving, which is what I do
when I realize I’m in the wrong room
and that numbers have betrayed me again
while I was hunting and gathering,
foraging like Homo habilis
who probably never lost his cave.
Out of patience, I opened every door
marked with threes and eights, those conjoined twins
disastrously separated at birth,
and roused the scabbed eyes of sleepers
like a beggar, no, an angel,
a begging angel who has written on his heart
will work for love.
Having not found our room, not heard
the sharp swing of your voice,
I descended upon the passenger cars
and row upon row of couples asleep
or staring out the windows like zombies
trying to remember what happens next
once the newspaper is well-thumbed,
the tea has gone cold, and the conversation is dead.
I called for you, in vain, even using your secret names,
the ones only the night knows:
wind-kiss, brilliant-fruit, dervish-moon . . .
Over and over, I said your names,
over and over until they filled
the wounded air of the car
and when there was no more room
for another sound, they caught and hooked
the ring of the brakes hugging the rails.
Just when I thought I wouldn’t find you,
you were there, the train was pulling away,
and I was watching you slowly eat
a dish of whipped cream and bananas
— the house special — in a cafe
in a city we didn’t know.
When you finished, we started walking
down a road that bent like a smile,
a shy smile, like the one the Japanese cat wore
on your purse. The road, we were told,
would take us to the end of the line
where all lovers in search of joy
packed on bullet trains — they’re the fastest
on two continents — arrive every hour.