Bus Ride (Little Americas: Wyoming, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, California)
TV, Guns, and Pawn is a square bunker building in Rawlins
boasting big black letters: “Your mom was Pro-Life—
Thank her.” Rolls one sign and another:
Wyoming west uncurls
east and back as the midnight
big dog Greyhound stretches and runs:
Past Beans, Feed, and Butchery,
the Viva Mart, the Kum-&-Go
Convenience store, the Lady-Saver
Coin-Op Laundry. Dawn lights the silo
painted like a Coors can in the stubble flying
past the nodding grizzled man whose wallet chain
holds single dollars close while he sleeps.
Mother gives sips of Pepsi breakfast to her child.
No one reads on this bus.
Sunlight comes flashing silver like running water. Sunset sets
and silver lights come up. The Cherokee Strip in OK, Oklahoma,
flickers like film, tick-tick-ticks on a picket fence,
flipped playing cards pinned on a kid’s spokes. Plastic covered
signs on parade or bare bulbs swing or dark holes
when signs are busted gape, ghosts out of business,
out of town, out of luck. Floodlights on Pleasant
Valley State Prison. Pale brown dirt into Pecos,
Texas sunrise crossing over Woman Hollering Creek,
Diamond Horse Cafe, the dry Pecos sending prayers upriver
for the peeling Latter Rain Church.
Prayers are like miles run straight through—He Who
Stops—the Driver keeps his own reasons when and
why. Off the clock, he pulls over. A woman from the clay
dirt red shoulder climbs on with a blue suitcase, tells the operator,
“You have been sent because the Lord entered
my life.” Wedges a suitcase between sneaker feet, untangles
long dark hair. Unfolds a twenty found from the side of the road:
another miracle, proof that God will pay her fare.
Terry from Key West talks all the way to L.A. “Never
been to jail and never got married,” he says, proud
because his father took him to the orphanage on Sundays. Taught
him to be free: Daddy pointed through the chain-link:
Fatherless boys cut grass, a line of push mowers, a row of boys,
identical T-shirts, identical crew-cuts crew-cutting the
grass, marching and mowing military style.
“Daddy said all that separated
me from them was this fence if I didn’t watch
my step.” He remembers their white shirts,
blue jeans, red mowers forty years ago,
a ragged line of boys and machines,
the field green, the sky blue,
like today, on this bus, all of us, into the horizon
in a ragged march, the past moving the future.
Sharlene Gilman is a Pushcart and O. Henry Prize nominee whose poems and fiction have appeared in journals like The Distillery, Poetry Now, and Portland Review. She received her B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin, her M.F.A. from Vermont College, and her Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University. She is currently the Assistant Professor of Developmental Writing at Bloomsburg University.