The Southern Crescent
In 1959 my mother is boarding a train.
She is barely sixteen, her one large grip
bulging with homemade dresses, whisper
of crinoline and lace, her name stitched
inside each one. She is leaving behind
the dirt roads of Mississippi, the film
of red dust around her ankles, the thin
whistle of wind through the floorboards
of the shotgun house, the very idea of home.
Ahead of her, days of travel, one town
after the next, and California, a word
she can’t stop repeating. Over and over
she will practice meeting her father, imagine
how he must look, how different now
from the one photo she has of him. She will
look at it once more, pulling into the station
at Los Angeles, and then again and again
on the platform, no one like him in sight.
The year the old Crescent makes its last run,
my mother insists we ride it together.
We leave Gulfport late morning, heading east.
Years before, we rode together to meet
another man, my father, waiting for us
as our train derailed. I don’t recall how
she must have held me, how her face sank
as she realized, again, the uncertainty
of it all—that trip, too, gone wrong. Today,
she is sure we can leave home, bound only
for whatever awaits us, the sun now
setting behind us, the rails humming
like anticipation, the train pulling us
toward the end of another day. I watch
each small town pass before my window
until the light goes, and the reflection
of my mother’s face appears, clearer now
as evening comes on, dark and certain.