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through my window
I’m sitting in my apartment alone and it’s june 2. There’s this spicy taste in my mouth because i just ate a bunch of chips with the little salsa cup they give you at mexican places in chicago. Salsa thimble. My roommate’s friend pointed at my book -- “i like eileen myles” and then “i wouldn’t say that i read though…” -- i told them “inferno” is good but everyone should read “chelsea girls” first. Even just for that chapter about taking care of jimmy schuyler in the chelsea hotel. I’m saying all of this to them as they are on their way out the door, nodding their head, their unfamiliar appearance escaping behind the wooden frame. The physicality of “ok ok, see ya.” I’m listening to some bootleg elliott smith full album on youtube, maybe they can’t even hear me. It feels like such a summer activity -- to listen to elliott smith and acoustic guitar plucking, i’m wearing a tank top and thinking, eating the salsa that makes my tongue feel frenzied at the tip, i just put a kathy acker book on hold at the library that they don’t have at the st. louis library. Maybe i’ve read a different kathy acker book every summer for the past four years.
"like jimmy schuyler once said, the writing the poem part is easy, it's the rest of the time that's the problem."
Last night I took the amtrak home. I want to say “home” as much as I can. Chicago is my home, it is. I am saying this, screaming it, as if somebody doesn’t believe me. Maybe i feel like a fake, since i’m going back to st. louis soon, and i always was. Some of the most important people in my life never visited me in chicago. Maybe that’s why i feel like i have to say it, prove it. This is and was my home. This experience was real, and I belonged.
On the amtrak, i wanted to write about everyone around me in little vignettes. Over there is the older man wearing a fishing hat, something about him seems like an old napkin. Over there is the other jewish looking girl also writing in her journal. Over there is the younger guy drinking a beer and blasting the radio, even though a frattier guy told him to shut up. Over there is the nervous-seeming couple holding a box of a new video game controller every time they walk up and down the aisle. There was that younger girl alone in line at the station, holding a giant tote bag that said BEAUTY. Every time the train stops at a rural illinois town at dusk, a new mother walks on with her kids with little suitcases. They go up and down the narrow path between the gray seats, searching for an empty row. People avert their eyes, they don’t want to move. I feel bad for them -- all the rows are taken. Even before covid, people always wanted to sit alone, put their backpacks on the seat next to them, put their feet up. I press my body against the window, place my backpack against the central air vent -- i want the seat next to me to look unused, in case anyone needs it. I want to be accommodating, but i’m also not moving. The girl across from me with the hiking backpack asks if she can sit next to me, to let a mother and young girl have her row. Yes! The little girl is very talkative, and tells the hiking girl “thanks for the seats!!” numerous times.
Sometimes i stare at an image and remind myself to write about it later. The image is a small-town storefront at one of the train stops. It’s a brick building out my window view, past the station, past a little circle of iron and wood park benches surrounding an old tree. This all feels like the remnants of a “town square”. There are no visible people holding space. In the window of the storefront, there are lace curtains and some kind of display. A shadow box for the town, a snow globe of frilly somethings. I squint at the text - I can only read the word “society”. Maybe i need glasses, i can’t read it at all. I don’t think i can decipher this image. I have failed to write it out in an interesting way, but maybe that’s interesting, too.
For the rest of the amtrak ride, i become slightly obsessed with the hiking girl sitting next to me. Her big backpack had her muddied chaco sandals and a blue speckled metal cup attached, dangling freely. The pack had some sleeping pads and rolled up things on it. All of that is stowed away above us, on the luggage shelf that lines the ceiling. With her, she has her water bottle, a styrofoam cup of tea from the amtrak cafe car, and a small backpack with her laptop. She is wearing plain yoga pants and one of those flat headbands, athletic but clean. Not an old napkin at all. I feel embarrassed to be describing her. She’s a stranger, and we will never know each other, and we didn’t even talk. I want to ask her “what’s your life?” but that’s not very casual. So i read eileen myles and pull down my mask to eat the cliff bar that hayden gave me.
Maybe it’s easier to love a stranger, a short-lived intrigue, someone who doesn’t have to love me back. Someone devoid of necessary clarity, only exterior clues. It’s easier to describe a stranger, instead of someone i know and love. If i describe someone I know, they might read it, and they might feel betrayed. It’s forgiven and understood that my description of the stranger is probably faulty.
She asked to plug in her phone, and told me i could move it around in the mesh pocket in front of me if i needed to. As she was falling asleep, i asked her, “do you want to switch seats, so you can lean your head against the window?” the question felt too intimate as soon as i said it, and i instantly regretted it. She said, i don’t care, no. moments later, she opened her eyes and got out her laptop. She opened up a google doc, like i’m writing in one right now. I couldn’t read the title of the google doc from where i was sitting -- kind of like the small-town storefront -- except for one word: “letter”. She read through the “letter,” her arms crossed, uncrossing an arm to scroll or edit a word. Then she started to write, i saw it was a bullet point list. Each list item looked like one word like a grocery list. If you’re angry i was spying on her computer, you can stop reading i guess. I am so nosy. I wanted to know who she was. I kept watching her screen change every so often as i read “inferno”, clutching the library book over the fold-out plastic desk tray. She was looking at pictures of a farm and some monks on a website. She was staring and clicking through the pictures of the farm and the smiling monk for a long time. Digital tiles of flowers and trees and animals. I still don’t know what any of this means, except she simply seemed like a nice person.
By now, the sky is dark on my side of the train, but on the other side, you can still see a clean line of pink as the sun smothers out. The mom that the hiking girl gave up her seats for is talking on the phone, probably to her parents, since the little girl is yelling “HI POP POP, HI GRAMMA”. In close relation, i receive a text from my sister that my niece cried when she had to leave my parents’ house, not wanting to leave her grandma, my mom. I text back, i didn’t want to leave her, either. Then i hear that high-pitched voice across the aisle, inquiring over and over “why are you crying, mom?” The woman on the phone is concealed to me, her body turned towards the window, towards her child. I can tell her voice is quieter, more pauses. She ignores the girl’s question, she says “okay okay” into the phone. “Don’t cry, mom, you’ll see pop pop and maw maw soon. Don’t cry mom. Don’t cry mom, you rock! You rock, mom!” I look out the window from my book, processing the lives around me, feeling guilty for listening, for relating to their private moment which i can’t understand.
I remember when the train exited missouri, through my window i could only see another train in motion on the next track. So close, almost grazing our train. Some kind of industrial cargo, all of us held on the weight of the mighty steel bridge. All of a sudden, the train passed, the darkness of it’s blockage eliminated and the river view and sky revealed, like a bright burst of reality. I watched the water reveal itself to me, the biggest wound, quivering in the sky’s reflection. The city disappears behind it, the jagged shape of anyone’s post-industrial empty-factoried midwest place. I think “i love this place” and just that statement alone means the world.