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James Tate Poems
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Non-Stop by James Tate
It seemed as if the enormous journey
was finally approaching its conclusion.
From the window of the train
the last trees were dissipating,
a child-like sailor waved once,
a seal-like dog barked and died.
The conductor entered the lavatory
and was not seen again, although
his harmonica-playing was appreciated.
He was not without talent, some said.
A botanist with whom I had become acquainted
actually suggested we form a group or something.
I was looking for a familiar signpost
in his face, or a landmark that would
indicate the true colors of his tribe.
But, alas, there was not a glass of water
anywhere or even the remains of a trail.
I got a bewildered expression of my own
and slinked to the back of the car
where a nun started to tickle me.
She confided to me that it was her
cowboy pride that got her through . . .
Through what? I thought, but drew my hand
close to my imaginary vest.
"That's a beautiful vest," she said,
as I began crawling down the aisle.
At last, I pressed my face against
the window: A little fog was licking
its chop, as was the stationmaster
licking something. We didn't stop.
We didn't appear to be arriving,
and yet we were almost out of landscape.
No creeks or rivers. Nothing
even remotely reminding one of a mound.
O mound! Thou ain't around no more.
A heap of abstract geometrical symbols,
that's what it's coming to, I thought.
A nothing you could sink your teeth into.
"Relief's on the way," a little
know-nothing boy said to me.
"Imagine my surprise," I said
and reached out to muss his hair.
But he had no hair and it felt unlucky
touching his skull like that.
"Forget what I said," he said.
"What did you say?" I asked
in automatic compliance.
And then it got very dark and quiet.
I closed my eyes and dreamed of an emu I once loved.
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