Tales from Transit: Proxima Estacion

Categories: Whatever

John Nova Lomax rides the rails. The Metro Rail, to be exact. And when he isn’t busy dealing with bomb scares or dodging Nigerian scammers , he’s jamming out to Manu Chao and writing poems...

Infinita Tristeza

Manu Chao writes train songs
But they don’t roll with Johnny Cash’s smoke-belching boom-chicka-boom.
Chao’s trains are electric,
they glide beep-beep, beep-a-dink,
down the Bay of Biscay from Biarritz to San Sebastian
Amid a babble of French, Castilian and English.

It suits well our own light rail
Especially the last song – “Infinita Tristeza”
On his last record – Proxima Estacion: Esperanza

A man boards the train with me at Dryden
Sits across the aisle, next to a woman I can’t see
His hand is bandaged; the blood soaks through.
“A goddamn dawg bit me last night,” he explains.
“He was in my territory.”

All night he had waited in Ben Taub
But the doctor never came
So he had left, and found some cold beer
Before the sun had gotten too warm.

He turns to the woman seated next to him.
“What you doin’ today, sista? You going my way? Where your man at?”
Proxima Estaction, Esperanza, intones a lady in my headphones.
Proxima Estaction, Hermann Hospital, intones a lady on the train’s speaker.

Our silver car glides north through vast canyons of sorrow
With names like Methodist, Texas Children’s and St Luke’s
A man on the platform clutches an infant, wrapped in blankets, tubes protruding from its tiny nose.

Proxima Estacion: Esperanza
Proxima Estacion: Rice University

Our car coasts from deep shadows into the sunlight
On the lawn outside of Palmer Episcopal’s burnished Spanish grandeur
A dozen broken men lounge in the St Augustine
Waiting for breakfast, waiting for meaning, waiting on time.

Amid these columned, marching old live oaks,
And those frozen music fountains and the Cancer Survivors Plaza and the statue of Old Sam Houston pointing the way to his glorious nation-building massacre,
you can convince yourself you are in Madrid,
or maybe Buenos Aires or Montevideo,
if you squint.
Did you hear what Bob Hope said about Houston?

Proxima Estacion: Esperanza
Proxima estacion: Wheeler

Hard by the highway once-homeless Nam vets now get three piping hots
And a very plush cot at an old motel
One of them gets on the train
He’s missing most of his teeth, and he waves his cane
To the north and asks me,
“Is downtown that-away?”
Outside the Mexican Consulate
The long lines are already forming.

Proxima Estacion: Esperanza
Proxima Estacion: Ensemble/HCC

An old black man passes the shuttered Main Street Cafe
Tacking his shopping cart trawler
Through the Grand Banks of empty beer cans
That swarm Midtown’s asphalt tributaries every morning.
His steel mesh net is only a tenth full
But he knows it will be overtopped
With a cart-limit catch by day’s end

Proxima Estacion: Esperanza
Proxima Estacion: McGowen

Nearby, a knot of junkies
And still-trembling drunks
Are on the mend
They lounge outside a clinic,
Blinking, walking on the unsteady legs of week-old ponies
Feeding their ravenous souls with smoke and hot black coffee

Proxima Estacion: Esperanza
Proxima Estacion: Downtown Transit Center

Two bus stations from different worlds
Face off across McGowen
At one, people are dressed in their best
Buying tickets to places like
Nuevo Laredo, Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi, and Matehuala.
At the other, people buy tickets for places like Lafayette, Longview, New Orleans and Detroit
Amid razzing and jeers, a squad car eases off the sidewalk there, hauling off a kid with cornrows and saggy pants.

Proxima Estacion: Esperanza, the lady says.
Proxima Estacion: Bell

I get off the train before it arrives.
And it hits me just like that:
So does everybody else.

-- John Nova Lomax


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