We’ve left Barstow on I-40.  The sun has fallen 
into the side-views. Shadows have begun climbing

purple spines above bajadas. Wind has broken
through cactus needles and flittered candy wrappers

caught in creosote vines. A freight train has paced us.
We’ve parked at a rest-stop. The train has moved east,

out of view. We’ve hopped the wire fence and walked
no trail past clusters of volcanic rock. At the track,

we’ve tried coaxing the conditional-perfect from ghosts of
railroad magnates, men who died long before discovering

the unsettled American past. Stars suddenly open
above us like bullet holes in a t-shirt. Down here too,

there’s more past now than ever. The railroad ghosts
tell us regret will always be un-American, but would-have

is a vehicle too, like their future-tense, and we can’t escape
our history anymore with credit cards or advances in locomotion.

We’ve thanked the railroad ghosts for space flight, told them
it’s no surprise to us that three Americans hold the record for

farthest distance from their mothers’ wombs. On the way
to that record, 200,000 miles from I-40, after losing

their main vessel, the crew of Apollo 13 radioed Earth,
where engineers would undo launch day with calculators

and scale models, chalkboards, the future-tense, and some help
from gravity. We remind the railroad ghosts of this bit of the story,

that this track they claim leads to space only u-turns the moon,
which means we can’t go forward anymore without going back.

By Erik Wilbur


Erik Wilbur teaches writing at Mohave Community College in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. He is also the program director of Real Toads Poetry Society, a literary organization that provides opportunities for residents of rural Arizona communities to learn about, experience, and share works of literary art. His work has recently appeared in The Southampton Review, New Ohio Review Online, and Aquifer. Also, his forthcoming chapbook, What I Can Do, won the 2020 Chestnut Review Chapbook Prize.

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