We’re on the Amtrak to Bakersfield

and rushing past prisons and strip malls
and the endless farmlands of places
I’ve no interest in the names of.

I’m seated in the last car
near the bathroom
where a group of people
have gathered to talk
of sundry things.

A man with a handlebar mustache
sways in the isle, drinking
a tall boy Budweiser, wearing a shirt
that reads in a colorful and elaborate font:

Good Things Come To Those Who Hustle.

He talks and laughs
loudly and with confidence,
as if he surely knows some things.

We pass by old barns in the sun,
broken and haunted
with the ghosts of horses,

rusted appliances jutting
from cracked earth
like abandoned monuments
to forgotten things;

parts of old pickup trucks
strewn about like half-eaten carcasses,
each one rusted with enough stories
to break my heart from now
until the end of things.

The man with the handlebar mustache says
he’s getting a new tattoo,
says it’s gonna spell FUCK YOU
in big letters across his back.

He says, so far I got the ‘F’ and the ‘U’.

A woman behind him
grips an aluminum walker
with tennis balls for feet and says,

hey are you in line or what,
cause I gotta pee
so bad.

Graham Crackers

The cab picked me up on Haight Street outside the record store. The driver was a large middle-aged man wearing a Giants jersey and after we drove for a bit he asked me where I was from. I told him I’d been here in San Francisco for thirteen years now, and he said, oh, I figured you were a tourist since I picked you up in the Haight, I thought you was grabbing a souvenir. I laughed and said, no, sometimes real people go there too. He laughed and said, so you know the history of the neighborhood, then? A good amount, I said. I usta work at a restaurant around here back in the day, he said, pointing somewhere. Back then they used to give out free bowls of acid on all the corners and I’d get some every day. Every day for months. It was a government experiment so they could study what it did to people. They stopped it eventually, but some of us, man, we’re still recovering, no joke. I usta have to walk from the restaurant to the bank every day to drop off the deposit: that was around five blocks. And when you walked five blocks you had to pass about fifty dirty kids asking for change. I swear, there was at least ten on every block, it was terrible. They’re still out there, I said. But not like they used to be, he said. They have laws now. But I guess they’ll never get rid of ’em all. You know, I used to go to school right over there, he pointed, and I had to walk through the projects to get to school, and those project kids, they’d chase me and my sister every day for our milk money. They’d chase us for blocks. Those kids really wanted our milk money. With milk money you could get milk and graham crackers at recess. I guess the project kids wanted graham crackers, too. I don’t know if they still have milk and graham crackers these days like they used to.

Her Pain

is hand-me-down
straight off the rack

everyone on the block
wearing it in one
color or another

yet she dreams it
a glimmering coat
fashioned from the fur
of some mythic beast

slaughtered on a slab of ivory
with a diamond blade

she walks the city
wrapped within it
imagining every gaze
fixed upon the spectacle

rather than some other accident
or something flashing
on the screen of a phone.