Enslaved by circumstances, to wait, without vanity, uncalculating and available, for the whim of the marketplace, to wait, without pleasure, for routine or for chance.
—Joyce Mansour, “Practical Advice for Waiting”
(Translated by Myrna Bell Rochester)
The train crouches like a gun.
Anachronistic steam from air brakes
frosts parallel gray rails.
Above—the traditional dusty glass,
thick air rising from a line
of the frightened humans waiting here.
On the platform, a desk. You hear
wheezing lungs—an old gun
squeezing a bullet into the chamber. The line
is frozen—a glacier—it breaks
like an icicle, like gray glass
overhead when rain falls like steel rails
in winter. Looking down, you see one rail
is crooked, twisted, and over here,
a spike’s rusting. There’s a fine dust of glass
covering cinders, dark and bright as gun-
powder. Even you know the brakes
will fail. You shuffle along with the line:
One step and stop. Those blue lines
on that page on the desk are trails
of unreadable names with no breaks
between consonants. They mean nothing here—
A broken alphabet of notches on a gun.
Stand up straight and focus on the split glass
of your bifocals. Don’t think about the last glass
of wine you’ll ever know or the hairline
fracture in your knee. She didn’t fire the gun
on purpose. Behind you someone starts to rail
against injustice—as if anyone could hear.
Others laugh, loud and sharp as ungreased brakes.
An order is given. Movement. Try not to break
into a sweat or tears: A perfect glass
chess piece moving from there to here
under a cold hand that understand this line
of attack. Walk straight until the rails—
cool and blue as the barrel of a gun—
split you into a new line. The kiss of air brakes.
A dull glare from the rails. All that broken glass.
A gun firing a shot you’ll never hear.