A journey by train

This month the poets of Carpe Diem Haiku Kai are taking a journey by train. The original inspiration that Kristjaan gave us was a journey on the Trans Siberian Railroad but I’ve decided to keep it closer to my own experience and start out in Poughkeepsie, New York. I grew up near there, and have fond memories of taking the train into New York City. I’ve also been experimenting with adding plot to haiku–I am working to become better at plot just in general. I realized several days in that this is the perfect opportunity to make an experiment, so I plan to make these haiku one connected journey. I’m posting them as individual entries, but I’ll add them to this page every day, too, so you can easily read the whole journey in order. Check your bags, and travel with me. Enjoy the ride, and I’d love any feedback you might have. Thanks!

percolator perks
the sun rises
the day begins

Queen City of the Hudson
say what you will

a funny name
a grand old city
gorgeous vistas

I await my train
onward to New York City

just a glimpse
her red hat and–oh those curves–
all aboard

glued to the window
as the miles thunder by
thumpety thump thump

hugging the Hudson
my train seeks the city
glimpse of castle

abandoned ramparts
my thoughts are captured
the train rolls on

inside my paper
a folded pink rectangle
scent of rose buds

Russian Tea Room
Meet me at eleven
My name is Elena

my heart races–
the lady with the red hat?
the train slows

so many questions
scent of rose buds
taste of promise

spattered raindrops
cloudy windstorm
thunder booms

train car sways
high-pitched scream
squeal of brakes

darkness hovers
the storm worsens
nothing to see here

they tell us nothing
I imagine everything
the train starts moving

sun emerges
train progresses
Spuyten Duyvil

glimpse of skyscrapers
a long dark tunnel
Grand Central Station

crowded platforms
I scan the masses
I cannot see her

crowds swirl around me
I admire indoor sky
no time to worship

rush for the street
beehive of taxis
I jump in

stale vanilla tree
Turkish disco music
Where to, buddy?

Russian Tea Room
driver starts his sermon
I pay my ransom

finally free
I enter the opulence
ensconced in gold

no woman in sight
three cups of tea later
six men enter

pounding footsteps
upturned table
I’m surrounded

we march to the back
part of the scenery
going unnoticed

beets, potatoes, tea
boxes, boxes, boxes
scent of rosebuds

they take no questions
they give no answers
they give me orders

you will take the train
to Minneapolis–
you go now

they have my luggage
they put me on the train
six men in two pairs

brand new ticket
private sleeping car
compartment A

nowhere to run
they wait on the platform
I must ride the train

Why am I here?
Where is Elena?
Am I safe?

porter beckons
I follow his lead
compartment A

door opens
scent of rose buds
mystery woman

there she sits
oh those curves

coal black hair
bright blue eyes

purple blossoms
arms and forehead
I hurt for her

questions flood in
words flood out
finger to lips

she draws me close
whispers my name
I need your help

I am no one
I am not Batman
I sell used books

Catholic school girl
goody two shoes
nerdy reader

I play nice
I don’t fight battles

Why me? I ask
How can I help you?
What is all this?

she pulls me closer
whispers softly
you have my bracelet

I don’t wear jewelry
you must be mistaken
look at me

five foot six
short brown buzz cut
tweed jacket

no makeup
no jewelry
just a watch

Elena looked at me
gave me a smile
started her story

there was this woman–
she stole it from me–
Mimi Walters

my ex-girlfriend
passionate fire
smoke and mirrors

I don’t seek trouble
trouble finds me
Mimi Walters

she’d left me
she’d left all her junk

just a note
I’m not coming back
don’t follow

even for love
you don’t pursue the devil
when she lets you go

Elena spoke
Mimi stole it
my family knows

they searched your house
they searched your baggage
they searched Mimi

I must have it back
or they will kill us both–
I need the bracelet

I looked at Elena
When Mimi left me
I was hurt

I wanted her gone
I gave away what she left

her jewelry was trash
garish pieces of glass
just like Mimi

flash to fool the eye
all promise, no substance

no use to me
but I have a friend
I sent it to him

Anita Martina–
in Minneapolis–
he may still have it

she looked back at me
I doubt he knows the value
we will go there now

the train heads that way
we suspected you sent it
but weren’t sure where

that explains the train–
I had to ask her–
is he in danger?

she lowered her eyes
touched her bruises
whispered maybe

or maybe not
we only knew the city
he might yet be safe

slow steady miles
through Albany, New York
the train rolls on

a day’s journey
so long until we reach him
tell me more, I say

my mother, she said
it was her bracelet
sparkly shiny

bright blue stars
silver centers
one giant sun

I remembered
tacky flashy
sparkly shiny

just the thing
for a kitschy drag queen
Anita Martina

not real jewels
no real value
just sparkly shiny

Why? I asked
Why so special?
Why the danger?

she smiled at me
the value’s hidden
it has a secret

I leaned in
What’s the secret?
Why the danger?

she shook her head
I am not sure
I do not know

it was my mother’s
she told me to keep it safe
she said it holds lives

an old woman speaks
memories of past glory

I didn’t listen
but I kept it for memory
with her photo

studio portrait
mahogany frame

last month
it got knocked over
a letter fell out

my brother grabbed it
he wouldn’t let me see
he pushed me aside

his eyes grew wide
he started to mumble
he grabbed his phone

he ran from the room
I heard streams of whispers
random phrases

he spoke like the wind
said “I must find it”
and “leather diary”

most curious of all
the name that he whispered
“Josephine Baker”

Bronze Venus
belle in bananas
Josephine Baker

why would her mother…?
and why the bracelet?
Josephine Baker?!

back past Poughkeepsie
the train rumbled forward
my thoughts raced

so many questions
Elena had no answers
just more mystery

her house was ransacked
her brothers wouldn’t say much
until they came back

they threatened her
asked many questions
wanting the bracelet

she’d slept with Mimi
a chance encounter
the bracelet was gone

Mimi slipped away
sentimental loss
small sadness

Elena looked wistful
starting to weep

they tracked down Mimi
just two days ago
they weren’t gentle

she said you had it
but wouldn’t keep it
she said she knew

she told them
about your friends
in Minnesota

“performers”, she said
“I can’t remember the names”

they searched your house
and assumed Mimi was right
so here we are

my breath caught
What about Mimi?
Is she okay?

a deep sob
her plaintive eyes
I do not know

rising panic
is anywhere safe?
is Mimi okay?

I want to escape
they took my cell phone
nowhere to run

I must warn my friends
perhaps through the porter?
but then again…

what chance would I have?
where would I go?
they would catch me

and then there’s Elena
she needs my help
look at those bruises

Albany soon
the train stops for a bit
I could try to run

the world passes by
as my thoughts collide
one with the other

train pulls to a stop–
an hour’s pause
at this station

Elena, I said
we can try the cops
they can help us

I motion her forward
to leave the compartment
she shakes her head

I’ll go get some help
you can wait here
I’ll be back soon

I turn to go
I hear her voice:
I wouldn’t do that

I look back towards her
she seems less fragile
pointing a gun

she looked at me
I know how to use this
you better sit down

I sit down
thoughts swirling–

what is this?
are those even real bruises?
what side are you on?

she lowers the gun
but she keeps it aimed
hand steady

I need that bracelet
it is life and death to me
I wasn’t lying

right now I seem strong
against my brothers
I am powerless

I need your help
there must be no police
they have my daughter

friend or foe?
temptress and troublemaker?
or does she need help?

all I could think of
was the cold hard steel
pointed at my belly

I cannot run
my friend is in danger
the train barrels on

right now
I can stay or get shot
I have no choice

please put down the gun
we can work together
I will help you

I want to trust her
I have so many questions
so many questions

she puts down the gun
starts to thank me
begins to cry

so many questions
she is sobbing wildly
she reaches for me

friend or foe
she is a woman in pain

ever the gallant
I wrap her in my arms
I let her cry

my strength
surrounding her weakness

she clutches me
her body shakes
she weeps

crying spent
she looks into my eyes
leans in with a kiss

her strength
exploiting my weakness

I want to resist
women are my kryptonite
I crumble

all the stress
all the panic of this trip

emotions melting
arms, legs, lips

we pass the time
as fragile lovers
heading west

the train barrels on
the rolling plains
the empty miles

night turns into day
as the miles roll along
day turns into night

Cleveland long gone
we come up for air
approaching Elkhart

a delicate truce
about to be tested
as we change trains

we pull into Chicago
scanning the platforms
for six large men

train pulls to a stop
the porter grabs our things
we alight

no men to be seen
we settle to wait
safe for now

I look for a phone
with Elena watching me
I call Anita

I want to warn him
about the bracelet
make sure he is safe

I reach his voicemail
what can I say?
how can I explain?

I keep it cheerful
I’m coming to visit
see you soon

we grab a paper
while we wait for the train
Chicago Sun Times

I scan the headlines
that’s when I see it
above the fold

Mimi Rodgers
noted indie filmmaker
found dead

I keep reading
“girlfriend Maxine Stuart
sought for questioning”

poor Mimi!–
and I go by Max–
they think I’m running

I’ve only used cash
so they can’t find me
at least not yet

this looks suspicious
but I hate to use plastic
it’s too easy

they think I’m running
I have to fix this
what will I do?

I tell Elena
we board the train
heading west

a wanted woman
in a giant mess
I didn’t create

I think of Mimi
knowing that somewhere
she’s laughing

the landscape rolls by
fields and trees hold no answers
I search them for clues

what will I do?
are the police on the way?
how can I fix this?

Elena’s no help
she stays strangely silent
my thoughts scream panic

we finally sleep
embracing the darkness
alone together

exhausted sleep
tormented nightmares
pounding on the door

hearts racing
we try to stay silent
but they keep pounding

Open the door!
It’s the police!
Open the door!

we cannot ignore
the insistent sounds
of violent men

nowhere to hide
nowhere to run
we open the door

we stand half-clothed
before enormous men–

wide awake
though just awakened
nerves on fire

We’re sorry to wake you–
there is an emergency
on the train

are they after us?
where is that gun?
will they find it?

time slows down
the train has stopped
they march us out

the porter gestures
we are led off the train
into the fields

ten squad cars–
a bumper crop
of flashing lights

the whole train empties
half-awake zombies
asking questions

we stand and watch
as men with guns
go on with dogs

not sure where we are
not sure what is happening
we shiver

we wait and wonder
porters serve coffee
styrofoam cups

sandwiches appear
from inside the metal beast
we wait and wonder

two hours later
we reboard the train
none the wiser

when it comes

in the morning
with the breakfast tray
a sealed letter

Elena grabs it
stabs her greasy butter knife
through the fold

a small square falls out
slashes of fountain pen
on linen paper

we need the bracelet
we are watching your movements
you must obey us

we caused the stop
we put a bomb on the train
just to show you

you both looked so cold
in those skimpy pajamas
out in the field

we are watching
you must do as we say
look in your closet

can we look?
should we look?
is it safe?

Elena moves
reaches under the bunk
her gun reappears

we creep together
march toward the closet
fling open the doors

today’s paper falls out
a few words in lipstick
on the front page

“we were here”
Elena and I jump back
they were here

so much to say
the Midwest rolls by
the endless miles

nothing to say
the Midwest rolls by
the endless miles

one day late**
we arrive in Saint Paul

cheap motel
I try to phone Anita
still no answer

When we left our story Max and Elena have settled into a cheap motel on the outskirts of St. Paul. They have been unable to contact Max’s friend Anita Martini.

peeling wallpaper
decrepit heat vent
the scent of stale lives

we awake to cold
winter’s icy limbs

one more try
Elena’s phone
the line is dead

we head out
looking for Anita

Are we being watched?
WIll the police find us?
Where is Anita?

I ask Elena
she has no answers
only questions

we rent a car
head to the Warehouse District
Anita’s loft

we knock
all is silent
we knock again

I still keep a key
for old times’ sake
a memory

I open the door
yell a greeting
more silence

inside the bedroom
chaos of feather boas
a room ransacked

Elena starts searching
I worry about my friend
we can’t call police

piles of shoes
feathers feathers feathers
no bracelet

we try to plan
to search for clues
the phone rings

Should we answer it?
we let the machine get it–
Anita’s voice

I run for the phone
he is coming right over

we wait
relieved and perplexed

seated in the shambles

key in the lock
Anita rushes in

he looks down
all six feet

Max, you drama queen–
it always looks like this
when I do drag

all that pretty
makes a huge old mess
at the house

I introduce him
to Elena

he winks at me–
she is gorgeous–
I wink back

we still have a problem
we need to talk

(to be continued…)

**Correction: I’ve taken the train from New York to Minneapolis many times. It’s been a while, so I was remembering wrong–it only takes about six hours between Chicago and Minneapolis–not a whole extra day. I guess the train ran into authorial delays here.


12 thoughts on “A journey by train

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