$500 Reward for Runaway Train Last Seen Heading North

by Keith Donnell

Run, early morning train. Run along them sweaty rails slick with dying night’s wetness. Run tight, but not too tight, around bends in the excavated earth. Run with twisted rock faces layered by the ages, where bundled dynamite sticks were your mistress. Run by the old river, but against the old river, cause we ain’t going down, sold deeper in, we be emerging out from, homelessly unencumbered, humming gospel hymns, lost in possibilities, how a sleeping easel mutters things, reaches for that blank canvas swollen in window light, wails, wakes the baby across the hall. And, no, the world in this dream don’t glow like no moon-polished pearl fixed on a gold ring. But it ain’t no sack of hot hog guts swinging from a tree neither. Run, early morning train, take me away to that cool, shady in-between. Pretty girl with tired eyes rides the colored car nibbling on last night’s cold leftover chicken dinner, and I ask if there’s a piece down in there for me. Like the blacker the berry, I said, the darker the meat. She grins, asks about that flask I been sipping, says if there’s still gin then she’s in, that there’s no more perfect union to be forged from this world than that of warm gin and fried chicken skin. And as we alternate chews and swigs, she asks if I hear it too, the music, and I do. Run, train. Run a tunnel in your wake, through this rising flood of dawn, before the sun burns it all away. Run, train. For the child who wakes the chirping birds, races through crop to far tree line, hops creek, reaches ridge, sun rising behind, just in time to see your coal smoke spilling above the high tree canopy, to stand on the tracks while you approach, to sidestep the bull just as you pass, to spy the rush of steel and glass and catch a half-glimpse of me staring back. 6 Too quick to hear our harmony of gin with chicken skin, but this is how it begins, barefooted, wide-eyed, mind-riding with nothing but a homespun sweater and second-hand underpants, alone, but never less lonely. So run, train. Run, train. Run, run, run, run, train. Run, run train. Run, train. Run, run, run, train. For the weary hearts caught in slaughter like grains to harvest, sloshed around in chest cavity, bodies chained down, chained together, touching hips, thighs, shoulders, undisturbed until all boundaries blur, an agony as singular as the darkness, saltwater seeped from cypress wood, seeped from pores, merging, made vapor, tasted by slavers—Captain said there is no more perfect union to be forged from this world than that of seawater and nigger sweat, asks crew if they hear it too, money in the air. They don’t but say they do. Run, train. Run for your life. This absence of light has never been so plentiful, and the risk of road travel so takable. You’ll see when it’s time to hide quiet in the assurance of deep corn, fire slow rising from a horizon: what white folk callin’ miracles, what we folk callin’ warnings. So run, early morning train. Run like hell, like your wife and child wait by a pot of hot coffee, like them dogs just got your scent.

Keith Donnell, originally from Philadelphia, currently lives and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is an MFA candidate at San Francisco State University and holds an MA in English from the University of Southern California. His work has or will appear in forthcoming issues of Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Big Muddy, Juked, Steel Toe Review, New American Writing, Yemassee, Berkeley Poetry Review, Nomadic Journal: Wonder, and LUMINA. He can be reached online at kdonnelljr@gmail.com.