Excerpt from In Yolo County

In a Boxcar, 1928
© Naomi Thiers

Odd thoughts jolt through a man’s head, riding the rails,
jammed with 40 others in a flat wheeler. Hard
bouncing. Can’t stand straight, the ride’s so rough.

Old scraps surface to the rail’s rhythm:
Candy is dandy but likker is quicker. Candy is dandy…
Rougher than a cob and wilder than a woodchuck.

In a boxcar, stale rage lifts off men’s
packed shoulders, hangs like dust in hot air.
A hungry man praying to make it to California

with no knife fight, hears in his head:
Going to hell in a hand basket.
Like a one-legged man in a butt-kickin’ contest.

He remembers fried chicken, tablecloths, the legs
of women in stockings. Now, with somebody’s wool
shirt against his face, dozing as his head bangs,

he dreams he crawls right to the edge of the world
(like the edge of the open boxcar, death spin below)
and crawls back, backwards

over and over again, and in his head:
Just shittin’ in one hand, wishin’ in the other.
‘Twill do you no good to kick against the traces.

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