New Stories for April 17, 2017
It’s March in Western Washington,
and the forecast still shows 46 degrees
but I know spring is coming.
Set to “Edi beo thu hevene queen.”
Incense and music spice the air.
The sun lets down her golden hair.
I was eighteen and thought I was a man. What eighteen-year-old doesn’t? I had joined the Navy Reserve and was headed to Chicago for boot camp at Great Lakes Training Center on a train from New Orleans. Just a country boy from Podunk, Mississippi, I had never been on a train. I’d never even been out of Mississippi except for a couple of fishing trips with my old man, one to Louisiana and one to Florida.
I ordered pancakes for breakfast, not knowing if breakfast was included with the ticket—provided by good old Uncle Sam—or if I’d have to pay. I didn’t want to ask for fear of seeming gauche. A surly waiter plopped down a plate with two pancakes on it—no butter, no syrup. I didn’t want to ask for butter and syrup for the same reason I hadn’t asked if breakfast was included in the ticket price. Maybe people who rode trains ate their pancakes dry. Maybe only country folk from Podunk poured syrup over them, so I choked them down as best I could.
To say I was not exactly worldly would be an understatement. I was a bumpkin—but not as much of a bumpkin as Randy, the sailor from Pelahatchie I met at the station. I don’t think he’d ever been away from his daddy’s peanut farm. He was tall and gangly with dry hair and buck teeth. I thought he looked like Li’l Abner. He sounded like he was shouting through a megaphone whenever he spoke.
I swatted his hand away when he pointed at the woman’s purple bra. I didn’t mean to hurt him but I forgot, in my haste, that I had a pen in my hand.
“Fuck!” Dave screamed loudly. “That stabbed me right between my fingers! What the fuck, Olivia?”
Several shocked Canadian heads swiveled toward us, expressions varying from confusion to disapproval. Among them was the curly blonde lady with the purple bra peeking over her sweater’s neckline. She colored, definitely noticing us now, and tugged her shoulders to fully cover her cleavage.
“I’m sorry,” I hissed, “but you were pointing!”
“That really hurt, Olivia.”
“I said I was sorry. But you were being really rude. Here. They don’t even know what to do with that. And now they KNOW we’re Americans. We were blending before.”
Written after attending a lecture by Professor Robert Hass, the former U.S. poet laureate.
We mouth the words, we chant,
we rise and fall in rhythm
as we drink the verse together.
Our tongues in chorus
wrapping measures in our mouth
humming life back into language.