That’s where she was from.
Down near the Rio Grande, the Mexican border.
Poorest place on earth, she told me.
She had the window seat of the bus.
I rode shotgun in the aisle.
She was a stranger who talked and listened.
And I was a traveler who did the same.
She was her way to Dallas
in the heat of summer
to see a friend.
I was passing through
on my way to Florida.
Through the glass,
I could see the shimmer of
everyone of those hundred plus degrees.
She shrugged her shoulders, said
“You get used to it.”
Her accent drawled
as plain as the plains we crossed.
But her face was fetching
even if her mouth took up more of her jaw
that I was used to.
Her eyes were where
I mostly took her measure.
They were a pale but expressive green
like the little that grew thereabouts.
She gave me the inside dope
on roping steers.
I told her what it was like
to sit in a room half the day
We had nothing in common
but for a willingness
to talk up our differences.
She was shapely
but in a modest way.
For all my writer’s wrist workout,
she’d have had me easy in an arm wrestle.
But we didn’t touch,
at least no more than bus riders do
when jerked sideways around a corner.
But there was a connection there.
forced by circumstance perhaps
but the underlying humanity in people
has this flair for finding itself in others,
even if she’d never been inside a theater
and I hadn’t once stood at the base of an oil derrick.
We talked for hours
as that vehicle rolled across Texas.
Her tongue gift-wrapped her life story.
Mine was easily as honest.
We ate together
in a cheap but filling bus stop restaurant then parted.
She gave me a number to call
if I was ever in Brownsville.
I never did go there
but I looked the place up in a book once.
I still must have that number somewhere.
Like I have everything that’s happened to me somewhere.
Maybe it’s with Portland, Maine
and Ann Arbor, Michigan
and a one-horse town in New Mexico.
I recall that every one of those places
sent their envoy to greet me on my travels
and they were, in each case, female.
Brownsville wore her hair brown,
like the city’s name.
And long, like how long ago it’s been.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in
That, Muse, Poetry East and North Dakota Quarterly with work upcoming
in Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal, Hawaii Review and the Dunes