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On the Train to New York

by Diamond Forde

ALICE pressed her back into the red brick of the railway station.


2 The horizon, once foaming waves of cotton, now burped mouthfuls of diesel, columned smoke etching a cityscape in the sky.


3 Beneath her feet, earth whet its hips into the wheels of the coming train, & the train squealed with hunger.


4 This is how Alice would understand leaving: the stains of Carolina clay beaten from her shoe till only a ghost remained.


5 The train stopped. Alice looked into the windows’ glittering teeth, tried to cast the light within, its warmth a pillow still damp with dreaming. Fog sprung up on a fork full of roast, sweetgums spreading their leaves into ribbons of sun.


6 The First Man hung his hand on Alice’s hips, & together they carted into the train’s mouth, the luggage clacking & clicking with each step like a lock clamped shut.


 

2

The hills were the first to understand Alice was leaving. Leaving is all they know.

2 Cars weave like capillaries on the roads veining their backs; faceless children play in their vales, their laughter & tears erupting suddenly, unevenly, like geysers, from the dips.

3 When Alice leapt onto the train’s steps, the hills arched their billowing backs. They hissed. They shoved their green hips to the tracks & shook till teacups rattled in cupboards & her sisters wilted like the daisies in their skirts.

4 GOD touched the tremoring hills. Thus saith the LORD GOD of the Mount, “Let my people go, that they might altar these valleys, might sweep through the pestilent street.” & the hills, sated by the sweet meat of His word, curled into their grassy spines to sleep.



 

3

The cicadas understood Alice was leaving. They moaned. Groping for mud, they howled in their holes, sobbed till their voices rang like wind chimes from the hollowed hills.


2 Hear the testimony of the LORD GOD. So it is written: Once, a tree crashed its branches onto the rain-dashed mattress of the forest, & the cicadas grieved a decade.


3 Now, their cry claps cymbals for miles.


4 One weeps, shedding its husk, for the body that was.


5 As Alice crams her suitcase between her feet, the cicadas’ screech syncs with the train’s huffs & sighs, yowls straddling the trees, their cries torn through the linen sky.


6 They wail till night’s smoke sheens blue in tune with the treble of the steady shuffle of the porters’ & passengers’ wax-worn boots.

7 GOD heard the lamentation. Thus saith the LORD GOD of silver & streams, “Let my people go, that they may mourn their mom-&-pop idols: shelves of peaches, peanuts, sweet potatoes golden as a harp.” & the cicadas, wet in the river spilt from GOD’s jaw, bent their heads to drink.



 

4

The train wheeled its final warning & the forest jerked upright. Every plant pushed to see Alice mumble, a mechanical rumble soon to be thrown cliffside.

2 The flora jostled with the brush, stretching their green necks to peek at Alice weeping to lose them.


3 (They were surprised to find her eyes still bare.)


4 Then the lupine, tough, brilliant-yellow blooms bundled into spires, belched till the fields’s firmament burst in golden glory


5 & a wild wind shook the milkweed, its lavender stars trembled to tenebrous sky


6 so that even the train jittered, unsure, if the tracks might pivot into freefall.


7 But GOD had divided light from darkness, could uproot the rapture waxed in the rocky fields. Thus saith the LORD GOD of the Sycamores, “Let my people go, that they might bloom gardens from the doll’s eyes of their brood.” & the flora, jealous, simmered into a less dazzling mood.



 

5

The train lurched. The dogs howled. Fear bulleted through the fawn. Chickens clapped frantic in their coops, so loud, townsfolk heard applause. The titmouse peter-petered woe through his stretch of wood.


2 Only the fish—shad & crappie, walleye & carp, belted unbothered by the sound of Alice leaving. Underwater, a celebration rocketed a ruckus through the Blue. The trout trumpeted relief.


3 Would this mean less beer-batter? less oil? less of them flaked tender on a dinner plate?


4 It was jubilee, & the fish flitted a bonanza of scales. But GOD, who gathered the puddles, ponds, & seas, demanded decorum. Thus saith our aqua GOD, “Stop. Let my people go, that they might feast on the bounty I have made of their futures.” & the fish bent into their fins & smiled.



 

6

Humidity understood nothing of leaving because humidity could never let go.


2 She hangs by the bedside coaxing a boar bristle brush through Her fro.


3 Her coils curl in the corner. Her hand kisses Alice’s throat.


4 Tired, Humidity pooled by the windowsill of Alice’s car. Hungry, she perched on the counter, tempting Alice to reach out & touch the reflection of Her hand.

5 When Alice kicked into the hardback chair of the COLORED section, Humidity settled in, too, tucked Her silky coils behind Her ear then prayed, loud, for rain.

6 Humidity poured everywhere, smearing trails on the windows, on the doors, under the conductors’ glossy hats.


7 Babies rocked in their river baskets. The whole train fixt to drown.


8 GOD reached a cool hand down, His touch trilled a lullaby through the aisles.


9 Thus saith the LORD of a zephyr’s Mercy, “Let my people go, that they may baptize in the murky fount of a fire hydrant, that their summer cherubs worship their toes in the steam.”


10 Humidity turned Her eyes on the face of GOD, held Him in Her grotesque heat. There was nowhere on this coast Alice could escape Her, so she opened a window & poured Her hair through the dark.



 

7

Outside, the hills sharpened to houses. The stars shimmered with exhaust.


2 Alice removed a boot & held it for inspection. There, in the well-worn tread, red clay forced apart by the sole.


3 She pressed a finger in the dirt, pinched between her thumb & ring finger the dirt needling the open door of her pores—found home.





 

Diamond Forde’s debut collection, Mother Body, is the winner of the 2019 Saturnalia Poetry Prize. Forde has received numerous awards and prizes, including a Pink Poetry Prize, a Furious Flower Poetry Prize, and was a finalist for the 2022 Kate Tufts Discovery Award from Claremont Graduate University. A Callaloo, Tin House, and Ruth Lilly Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg fellow, Forde’s work has appeared in Boston Review, Obsidian, Massachusetts Review, and more. She serves as the interviews editor of Honey Literary, the fiction editor of Nat. Brut, and she lives in Asheville with her partner and their dog, Oatmeal.


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