Friday, January 25, 2008

social justice and a hot breakfast

"You're looking very warm today;"
the sweet low twang of a southern man's voice
floated over the scrambled eggs and sausage
in the breakfast buffet. I said,
"I have to bundle up like nanook to be comfortable,"
matching vowels with him.
"I know that's right. Are you from the south?" he asked, I paused-

"Louisiana and southeastern Texas..and it doesn't get this cold there."
I wasn't sure why he wanted to know, but then came the verbal missive
on New Orleans, the humanitarian work out of Grand Lake his group
had done, the ongoing crisis, the old cypress guards of the fleur de lis
crumbling under the dismissive wave
of administrative orders.

It is not unreasonable to get nostalgic around this time.
Mardi Gras is around the corner. The displaced look for warmth in
each other.

He said, "you been back home
lately?" Home, I think about Home.

and he's right, Louisiana has always felt like home -
they say, where your bare feet first patter, that's the place that
matters, and to me - so deeply in my skin I feel it, I touch my chapped
winter hands together and think about the miracle in missing humidity-
he and I are suddenly in some space together, speak in the same voice,
and in that moment I feel a purple, green and gold emblazoned thanksgiving,
and when he says, "I'll get this one, you just do it for someone else
soon," I could just take off my hat and walk confidently
out into the bitter DC cold.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

but ohio is normal

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving

The little white handwritten placards above our heads say “SOB” “MRB” and “CUM” The kid next to me has never heard the term “dear John letter.” He is blond and friendly, from Pittsburgh, and speaking with a broad man would like everyone to know that he charges an enormous hourly rate to make his commute worthwhile. I only know my stop, and will perhaps not know it well. Cumberland is where I hope to be let off, perhaps I will bribe the conductor with my beer, which I thankfully thought to buy in Union Station. It’s a toss-up if I or any of us will be released into the fall night by the conductor; when he talks his voice is full of cotton, his thoughts are sloe gin. We are headed for Chicago, and this is the strangest of routes. At first told to be seated upstairs in the sleek double decker, our little band was reprimanded en masse as the train embarked on its rocking trajectory, that the car was a “deadhead” and that we were to move, by an attendant who was troubled to put together a sentence, or make eye contact. There is a man in our mini-car who does this every day. Every day, 150 miles. Every day, he greets the crew, he puffs up with satisfaction that he knows them by name and by bad habit, by terminology and baggage and perfunctory rule-mandering. There is a young deaf man in the seat ahead, and he is better off not to hear this confederacy of plucky comrades. I don’t think we’ll ever get to Cumberland, and I imagine if we do, I will step off the train and see Studebakers. A woman comes in mildly amused by the gerbil habitat nature of our little car, and offers reservations in the dining car. I take mine for 6:30. It’s a bizarre ride, but
the sunset is all peaches and blue foamy November, a warm Tuesday for this time of year, and we’ve come to know each other chugging along, and I risk my ticket off this odd machine by drinking up.