CROSSING TUSCANY

A suitcase in each hand, I drag
the platform to the track that runs
east from Pisa. My totebag knocks
my hip as I mount the train's iron steps.
Reaching to fit the bags into their hammock,
I feel the pull of unused muscle;
the taut strain reminds me
of the summer I tugged a halyard to rig
a Flying Scot. Today I am again
a small explorer, dwarfed by the cypress
striping the window as we pass.
By Carolina's pine-wrapped banks,
I learned to sail, both skipper and vessel,
amazed when I raced a Sunfish
over the sound, amazed now as my life races
to Italy. I know the language,
and in a newspaper I read
of camp-bound Russian children.
I see their faces in windows somewhere
parallel to the glass before me.
I see the panes glow red as blood.
The pipeline in Siberia explodes,
the pages shake in my hands, the train
swallowed by flame as it passes.
I slump and try to recall Camp Morehead
scenes, but only the diving raft
floats to mind, the afternoon
a young cook lunged from the high plank,
swanlike, beautiful. From shore I saw
the others jump, after him, frantic.
He could not swim. They could not find
his body. I could not breathe;
for days I stayed out of the water.
The train lurches at Empoli,
then stops. I pull my cases down
and stumble through the car and off,
down the steep stairway that leads
under the tracks. I could collapse
beneath my baggage, I could die here,
anywhere--anyone could. But I go on,
and, rising on the other side,
I see a mother grasp
her Paolo's hand and pull him from
his image in the moving engine's chrome.

(c)Margaret J. Tinsley

This poem appeared in New Virginia Review, v.10, n. 2