New year’s train ride: a changing world, a changing self in the window

IMG_0093It’s new year’s day


(the year I turn




I’m on the train–

One of my

Favorite places to be.

The City of New Orleans,

20 hours between

New Orleans and


Gazing out this train window is

My kind of entertainment:

Scenery flowing steadily by,

The deep, damp greens and

Browns of

The south in winter.

The gray-day

Forests and fields and

Poor, small, rickety towns.

Looking out the train window

In the daylight,

It’s expansive thinking,

Thinking that quests over the

Landscapes and

Around these small-town buildings and

Between the scrub brushes like

Rippling water.

Who are the people

In those houses?

What are the stories of those

Old buildings?

Who’s poled along these bayous and

Tramped in these forests?

And I love the

Rock of the train.

To just lay on this

Sleeper car bed and

Let this almost-40-year-old body

Be rolled

Back and


To settle and


Deeper into my oldening skin and bones

With every gentle

Tug of the tracks,

This Buddha-grinning head

Lolling on the pillow,

These yoga feet

Flexing in the luxury of having

The whole bottom double berth

To myself.

To think that

Americans disdain

Riding the train!


Who think of ourselves as

Expanders and


There’s nothing more

Large and

Outward-glowing than a

Day-lit view out a

Train window.

IMG_0106And then,

The transition to night:

It’s that dark, snowless,

Southern winter kind of night

When you blink at your phone,

Amazed it’s only


Now the window is a



Flecked by passing lights outside.

Now it’s you and

Your reflection in the glass,

Your almost-40-year-old


Moving your stuff around the

Blue-lit cabin.

You and the reflection of the

Top of your head

Lit by the reading lamp,

Doming like a perfect


Like it holds a

Momentary miracle.

I’ve ridden trains for years.

How many times have I

Encountered the

Black train-window mirror,

Reflections of the back-lit

Shadowy hints of

Myself at

14 years old,

21 years old,



European trains in my

Twenties and thirties.

A lot of

Confusion and grasping,

Tears and

Unsteady cockiness in those

Old black-glass mirrors.

Today in the black-glass mirror,

I feel like a

Stretching cat,

Self-satisfied to

Loll here on vacation after




To have a strong-jawed husband in the

Berth above me,

A cantaloupe-bellied toddler

Sleeping in the pack-n-play,

Three other children

Growing in their sleep in the

Cabin next door.

(These children don’t

Save you from yourself but


If you keep enough of

Yourself to


They teach you

Many lessons.

And they are so funny.


Laugh and laugh.)

Today the

Black-glass mirror isn’t about

Angst and


Today it’s about a

Wink into the

Black night

And a curiosity for

What will be revealed

When the

Morning light turns this

Glass from a

Mirror back into a

Window on this

Mad, lovely






I did it to myself: 7 hours in the car with my ex-husband

Didn’t expect to find myself at Union Station, Chicago on Sunday to take this picture.

It was all my fault.

I had booked a spring break trip for

My son and his dad:

The Amtrak train from St. Paul to Chicago

And a sleeper car from Chicago to Washington D.C.

My ex, who lives in another country,

Hadn’t seen his son since July

And I stoked my son up for weeks about the

“Field trip”

He and his dad

Would take on the

“Long distance train” to Washington D.C.

Sunday morning,

Departure day,


The Internet says the train is four hours late arriving to St. Paul,

So we sleep in and I call Amtrak at 10 a.m., two hours after the

Original departure time,

Thinking we’ll have plenty of time to get to the station.

“You wasn’t at the station?” the Amtrak rep says.

“Uh-oh. Amtrak sent a bus instead.

Left at 7:50 a.m.”

Phone pressed to my hot face,

I look down at my son,

Who is dancing a little jig and chanting,

“Long distance train!”

And my ex-husband,

Who is listening to my half of the conversation and,

Registering what happened,

Doing that thing he does when he’s disgusted:

A one-sided head-shake,

More of a twitch.

I look at the clock:

It’s 10:30 a.m. and the sleeper car leaves Chicago at 6:40 p.m.

“What you gonna do?” asks the Amtrak rep, rhetorically.

“Yeah, I gotta figure that out,” I say, and hang up.

“I’ll get you to Chicago,” I say to my ex. “Alright? Just, everyone relax.”

Internet search for one-way plane tix to Chicago leaving within two hours:


Gas in the Camry for the 800-mile round trip:


“We could drive. We have time,” I say to my ex.

“Really?” he says, softening. “It could be an adventure…”

“Long distance train!” yells our son.

The ex and I look at each other.

“Let’s do it.”

We load up in the car and are pulling into the alley within five minutes.

And as we pull out,

My son,

Who has no idea this isn’t part of the original plan,


“I’m excited to go on the long distance train!”

And his dad and I laugh.

Seven hours in the car with my ex.

I had thought we might have

A Talk

About our son:

Where he’ll be going to school,

Here with me in America,

Or there in Finland with him?

That’s our albatross.

But it feels right to just

Be quiet

And watch

Wisconsin roll by on a

Foggy, late-winter, early-spring Sunday.

And anyway,

Victor has so much to talk about,

So many questions,

From his little throne in the

Middle of the back seat,

Any conversation his dad and I start is

Immediately interrupted with queries about

How earthquakes work,

What trains are made of,

What happens when cars crash,

And so on.

We arrive in Chicago,

And I walk the two in:

The huge father and his small son

Clutching his rainbow blanket and his


“Is this where the long distance train is?”


I squeeze the boy against my leg,

And father and son move off into the secure area

(Train stations have them, too, I guess)

And I stop them to take a picture.

“Have fun you guys,” I call,

And then go back out to my car for the




I checked my voicemail on Monday night.

There were a bunch of messages from the weekend,

Numbers I didn’t recognize

So I didn’t listen to the messages.

A 1-800 number from Saturday.


This is an important message from Amtrak.

You have a scheduled departure from

St. Paul to Chicago on

Sunday, March 20.

That trip has been canceled due to

Inclement weather.

A chartered bus will leave the train station at

7:50 a.m.

We are sorry for the inconvenience.”