Tom Hibbard




In the deserted traveler cafe, the dude and the cop, the lion, the war, the chili study the short order of waiting for nothing to eat except random loneliness of janitors and ticket takers, second-hand washer women, as day-before-yesterday's saxophone drifts beside iron gray gate A, gate E, the icy late winds whose original destination, a dead star, has become a point of origin of a golden age. The bleached nameless coffee drinkers, a few soldiers get this century's red carpet treatment. "All aboard" says the stuck turnstile on the official I-phone table of nomadic Moslem Holy Days, hopelessly far away from a modern parking garage alongside the river, the inopportune rain, the weeds and saplings, the useless conductors of buried Pyramids of the Pharaohs.


Many name tags and badges inquire for answers from the steam-filled wheels of departures, schedules, pool halls, chili dogs, tortillas, the shiny linoleum squares dispensing Snaple juice, raking in the doorframed dollars, looking over your shoulder for cheeseburgers. A warning drowsiness turns around and around the braided wastes where unwelcomed fools are the only customers, expecting a baggage cart any minute, the falling grime of memorable warehouses where the victors are held captive.

A person who says something is pulled out of line. The great equalizer of tomorrow boards its hurrying tennis-shoed fugitives. Tearful children search for their mothers. Grandparents wave angrily through windows. Strangers pass. The smelly freeway lights gleam off the flurried updraft of gutters. A person who can't make up his mind is pardoned without a trial. Arms grow weary holding their tongues. Gigantic guards push a crowd behind the scenes. A passenger who loses her seat shouts "Halleluia." In an amateur carry-on bag is a crumpled scrap of paper everyone is trying to steal. A lone brick church stoops in shadows. Girders and rivets begin to move, as if on their own, begin to levitate, begin to discover breathless cures for all the valient diseases, begin to fly imposingly through the rotunda of crying faux pas, on the Silver Star line, the Millenium line.

In the emptiness I see you, beneath quiet small town streetlights at four a.m. I see you in fallow moonlit fields. In the straight hands and warm blankets of helpless scattered sleepers. Pinpoints in the background uncover sadness in the foreground, a newspaper's cocked headline about peace. In extemporaneous mountains, I see your entirety. I see you in rows of unharvested cabbages. I see you in the isolated readiness night and day. I see you in mile after mile of glowing patterns of lack of self-awareness, in snoring Russia, in cowboy boots, in bare back stoops and hinges hanging down. I see you refuse to listen to the reproach of bereft precincts, refuse to pay a toll in the doomed car lots and cemetaries. I see you in the starry ashes of boarded windows, with only one left.

It's forty-six degrees in People, Ohio. The parking lot lights on the shopping mall smokestacks and big chimneys come to a halt at an overgrown, fenced-in loading dock. Telephone wires, downtowns, backyards sail past. Prisons wave from hills. A wandering tavern, open late, swigs a few beers as the train horn once-again fails to pin down an out-of-court settlement for the oppressive inflated consensus charged with brutal long-term human insecurity. The sentimental unexamined bastion rummages callously, compulsively through new shapes that burn two brands on a man's hand, permitting the waiter to announce dinner. A fake deer in a yard warns that the cold snows of winter are right at the door. Moving from car to car, I imagine buying breakfast in the dining car. At Toledo, there's a small crowd waiting to get on the train, a sidewalk, cars parked perpendicular to the tracks, a quiet country road behind. A girl with purple hair waves goodbye. Everyone forgot her. One by one they disappear into the pit.


We're sitting in Pittsburgh at about four thirty a.m. , perhaps five-thirty Pittsburgh time. People seem to have awoken from a fit of sleep from about ten p.m. until now. There are readers and music listeners in the Vistacar where I'm sitting away from my seat, high off the ground, with the chair facing out the window. Another train is parked across the walkway; all the windows are dark and dirty yellow lights of the underground station are flashing off the metal exterior of the tube shaped train cars. Various lights poorly illuminate this car from the station ceiling. It keeps the car not overly lit. Many people in the passenger cars are watching movies on DVD players. The sound has to be turned down. They use ear plugs or read captions on the screens. In the dark of the car, there is multi-dimensional movement but no sound.

The first Civil War cannons smash everything to bits. The river leaves us behind, the flickering landscape, the battlefields, beaches, roses, valentines, ideas, garbage collectors whispering in neglected stillness, rusted-out trucks sitting on slanted plantation clumps. It's an historic lover, riding toward Dixie, with his mistress, speeding to the poisoned oasis of hope, through hamlets and crossings, civilization, at the last moment, where humanity has tragically stumbled with its foot in a drapery covering the window. Refusal is acceptance; acceptance is refusing. The caretakers are all sitting at Martinsburg station. The looters saw your reflection in the window. The raiders ride back at dawn, but the town is no longer there, only the muddy, rutted road retreating in sadness. In darkened barns we commemorate ourselves with the crackling locked voices inside the destroyed boundaries, layers marching from Richmond, along the Chesapeake shores.

Back in my seat, I’m sitting with McNabb of the Washington Redskins. He seems like a pretty good guy and tells me he dropped out of broadcasting school where he's going to college in Illinois and has become a poly-sci major. He slept when we got on the train, and I was in the snack car, but he came into this Vista car when I got sleepy and tried to stretch out in the uncomfortable seats. Everyone was curled up or sprawled in the passenger area. One kid had his legs in the air. A girl had her head cupped in her elbow on the arm rest. McNabb’s wearing a ball cap that says Vietnam Veteran. He’s packing a forty-four.

We are starting out of the cavernous Pittsburgh station. A smattering of anxious onlookers. Moving slowly past a police station built into the side of a hill. We're picking up speed, rumbling and swaying beside a highway. Only weeds and wires and a brief overpass in the window. The sumac is colorless and dust-covered in the ghoulish drought outside. It's autumn but winter is setting in. Small clapboard houses pass also. The speed of the train makes it smell fresher and fresher, and the passengers forget about death.

In Cumberland, Maryland, smokers get a smoke break. A coach door is opened. Everyone lights up; meets and converses around cracks in the masonry and weedy grass. The conductor observes that no one strays and gets left behind. Up the hill are several red brick residences, one with Christmas lights in the window. A long building has a cheerful VFW Post on one end and a placid American Legion Post on the other. Cars are parked in the station parking lot. Everyone reboards.


Take the four worlds off the table and put them where no one knows that they were ever near here.


A woman brings ideas and facts. The talk echoes in gardens in back of her row house. The woman approaches and smiles. She's unmarried and far-flung. It's time to leave. It's time to find track fifteen. Hats and guns, boots all wash down the spout under treasonous red lips, bright white pearls for teeth, staggering, falling off with no sleep orpillow, quenching thirst from a cup of what in a moment could turn into Hades. At the roped-off crime scene, I got drunk. I didn't do it. I didn't commit any crimes. I did my best. I'm no slacker. Don't I know you from somewhere? You running again and again to catch that train, throwing everything on the floor. What? What? Trouble. No tickets left in first class? She's not allowed on the train? Already headed down the tracks. Headed down to New Orleans, never to see her again. Goin‘ all the way son? Can't you help a blind man? They warned me about you. I disagree. I think she's a rather nice person. I think I got on the wrong train. The engineer wants to talk to you.

U.S. Steel Tower gives a glimpse in large part of the exact highest point in the Shenandoah Valley, where the pioneers, the Indians once lived peacefully. The streaming wings without any problems raced to-and-fro on track one, track three. They have no need of contemplating what is the circumstance. Tall buildings look like writing tablets, a Babylonian advertisement for eight-thousand square feet, six bathrooms, with an attractive strawberry-and-grape pattern, framed in gold, the same as antiques, so that they will have a brainwashed value in the future. The rock formations have been here since long before any peoples. Everything has a natural look, the perfect, harmless conversion into a requisite, like squirrels eating all the birdseed. The ostracized John Brown arches, complaining, raiding the armory of Chef Mike in the dining car. They don't know where they're going; they only know it's toward a closed society. Their light assuredly shines where it makes no sense. First you have a fever, then muscle cramps, roped off from care-for-others disabilities, miscellaneous forms of alteration, buttresses, corrugated standard appeals. A motorized cart hastily drives toward the train engine, the First Class seating, with a message that can't be uttered. What direction are we going along the Potomac, its splashing near-by white-capped obsolescence? It's surface broadens, the eyes, the crumbling, then the vomiting, disgorging the the strong primeval current, as good as a bath, leaving only the rainbow of good times in its spray, a defamed foundation, minimal, long-awaiting wharves with bright linen sails.


nothing could stop your journey
tunneling through mountains
the radient paths of the family of man
where all is one-of-a-kind

north and south you ride in style
without raising your eyes
because a fabulous destination tortures
the wisdom from which your body is made

how can the builder build without tools
how can the builder build in the middle of the night
repairing the fence of blackberries
turning rocks into bread

only what is profane sates your hunger
historical markers outside harpers ferry, west virginia
trampling cobblestones like paper dreams
from before the time of moses

the crowd mistrusts the visibleĀ 
so that no one knows you
much less what you need
from this is measured out your lot in life


At dawn, before we know it, we're nearing the outskirts of Washington, D.C. , official center of the draped premise of decades, rivers and mountains, safe and sound. The misty Mo-sun begins to rise on the Mo-Anacostia, changing bitterness into joy, hunger into food, in the crowd we’ll be arriving. We'll be there in three hours, from the labyrinthine jungles of conception, providing the tangled wash-lines, the campfires, stacks of pallets, garages. We asked too much, suspended from fear. We gathered seeds from handicapped flower pots that could only write letters to families huddling in the cold. With the help of many others, we discoverd wealth walking on Pennsylvania Avenue, on the National Mall, past the Washington Monument. We feasted at the East Indian restaurant, the East African restaurant, above the the rooftops of questions with our impoverished harps of alternative ideas.


The train slows as it enters the city. Above, a billboard pictures a car dealer. On the Avenue of All The People, today is a walk-a-thon for homeless cancer heroes.

--November 2010


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