I am in Atlanta, drunk on vodka, happy, watching cars pass by. I am in a car, too, and a woman who will soon be my girlfriend is driving. It is Spring Break and I am a GTA for two large lecture classes, taking 9 MFA credits, and volunteer teaching, so I need this break badly. I remember understanding this large, flat feeling of needing time off. I remember a few other things from that night, too. I remember the large lime I pressed to my lips after the vodka. I remember saying I feel like a sword swallower after the burn. At that time I was just starting to learn what relationship meant, too, and I liked it. As we were driving that night, I saw an old train car in the back of a Taco Bell. I remember taking out my cell phone and texting the image to myself so I wouldn’t forget. I liked how misplaced the image was, the oddity of it.
Two years later and I’m out of grad school. I’ve been single for over a year and I’m on a train to Albuquerque. I am alone. I have no job, and I have no address. I am sitting next to this cowboy and he is older than me. He doesn’t speak English, but we laugh together when the whole seat turns toward the aisle; one of us must have pressed a button by accident. He eats a small burrito and I wonder if his wife made it for him or if he bought it. I am fascinated with this just as much as I am fascinated with the landscape, the sunset.
I carry almost 90 pounds of luggage to get here. I began in Long Beach, but took off to New Mexico from Los Angeles’ Union Station. I carry two small suitcases, one briefcase, my camera bag, and a handbag. I am finding a new home on the road, and it’s full of heavy, heavy song. I can barely carry my luggage from metro car to metro car and there are moments when people ask me where I’m going, when people ask if they can help, when people say You sure have your hands full, don’t you? and I stumble for a moment and then I find a rhythm and go with it, and all of a sudden I make it to Union Station and I am on another train, to New Mexico, and I am sitting next to a cowboy, photographing the sky. All that color. I don’t think of the train car in Atlanta. That image has faded like a dream by now, and I don’t write much on this Western train. I like to believe the words are seeds, waiting for fresh water.
I remember being in California and driving from Berkeley to Long Beach in one stretch, meeting a strong woman on a motorcycle on U.S. 1. I remember leaving the 1, stopping for gas and caffeine, and the woman behind the cash register, she was worried about me. She said I looked tired. I told her I was okay. She said How long have you been driving? I said All day, and she said, Where you going? I said, Long Beach and she said Too far, too far. She said I could sleep in her truck if I wanted. I said No, thank you. I’ll be careful. This was one day before I boarded the train to New Mexico. I knew I would never see the woman again. I remember she had blonde, straight hair and blunt bangs. She was kind, warm.
I knew I would never see that cowboy again either, the one I slept next to, the one who slept with a towel as a blanket. I used a dress—the longest one I had. We looked at each other when the train got cold at night. When the conductor announced blankets would cost money, we looked at each other for a moment, then fell asleep.
Two years earlier I was in Atlanta with a woman who would soon be my girlfriend, and I held her hand. I remember letting go of her hand when I gave my leftover lunch to a homeless woman in Little 5; she wanted my sunglasses, too. I gave them to her, those purple Jackie O’s. She smiled. I took her photograph. I don’t remember if she asked me to or not.
I remember, two years later, being in New Mexico, sleeping next to that cowboy, hopping off that train, driving from Albuquerque to Madrid with a friend, getting lost, driving up and down all those hills. The chalky brown dirt. The dust surrounding the car, breathing in all that dust when we opened the windows. I met a woman in Madrid’s grocery store, the cashier. She had long, gray hair. The grocery store was carpeted. We all talked about an abandoned place with coke ovens and remnants of houses. She told my friend, Moon, about some old dishes she found there. Good for art, she said. My friend and I, we never made it to the coke ovens, or the houses. Instead we got lost, and I say “we” here because this friendship is important, this car ride, this getting lost. Our journey was a product of Moon, her hands, the music of her orbit. The state of New Mexico is vast, full of color, hints of water. You have to look for the water, almost like it’s secret. Moon sits differently because of the water. And this “not being able to find,” this “lost,” it led me somewhere else, into a place where sky and Earth fit neatly on each other, one on top of the other, effortlessly. A place where Moon understands she’s lucky to have caught Earth’s orbit. A place where Moon understands she’s lucky enough to have held on.
Once, a friend told me about time/space and space/time, how space/time is what we have here, but in time/space, everyone you’ve ever met is there. I picture everyone standing together in a crowd, in some sort of living room, just waiting. I picture myself embracing everybody, all at once. We are happy. We understand what work is and what travel is and how they really are one in the same. We understand how to carry, how to be carried. We understand we carry each other. I cry when I see the cowboy and when I see the woman in the Jackie O’s, the woman with the blunt bangs, the woman on the motorbike. We don’t speak. We let silence thicken the air like honey. We untie the most significant images of our lives, and they scatter around the room like music. We know no one is missing, we understand this like God understands her children. And when the rain comes, when the ocean finally sweeps up what belongs to Moon, we reach into our pockets and find our tickets onto the next train. We are used to this, and for the first time, we welcome absence. The universe has grown from one seed. It is our time to finally, finally grow. We grab our suitcases now, knowing. We catch orbit, we hold on.