Kate Rushin

Word Problems

If a train departs at 7:29 pm
traveling south and another train
departs at 7:17 pm headed north,
what time will it be when we finally
take haven in an indulgent bed
marooned in a multi-national hotel room
overlooking Central Park?

How many hours will it be before the edges
soften and we walk through the park, smile at
strangers we wrongly assume to be
New Yorkers, sit in overpriced cafes,
sip international coffee drinks and cognac,
regard male nude portraits executed by
Sigmund Freud’s grandson hanging in the
Metropolitan Museum of Art?  What time shall we
return to room service remote and bourgeois bed
the dubious privilege of somebody else compelled
to make it?  The next morning, exposed in our 1970’s
campus-style, Afro-Am cultural nationalism,
we’ll overtip the Third-World-Woman cleaning staff
then see each other off at Amtrak
just in time to make to back to our good jobs.

Yet, somewhere between the maxed-out credit cards,
mini-bar and starched linens, two grown colored women
inscribe a story.  It’s a story some brother with an agenda
declared couldn’t exist, due to inauthenticity.  Some sister with
self-induced amnesia pretended she couldn’t read between the lines,
had no idea what we were talking about.  Some white woman
insisted the story was interchangeable with hers
and some white man reported it was not in evidence;
we’d never crossed his mind.

 

 

We are the last generation
raised by 19th –century women, the link between
our great-grandmothers in bondage and our
daughters in cyberspace.  No wonder
we’re standing here wondering; inhabitants of a land
everybody wants to occupy, but nobody wants to imagine.
As our daughters and sons set out on the
MTV artificial intelligence information superhighway
we haunt the crossroads.  We’re on the watch to pass them
a few books, a few photos, a few stories, a few words;
a broach, a piece of cloth, a song, a prayer,
a pressed flower; a feather, a shell and a bone.
We maintain that the elite have nothing going for them
except money, technology, and gall.  All the while we fake
faith, hedge our bets: Got to learn those computers.
You’ll go to that private school if I have my say.
We just can’t risk stranding our children in that
so-called underclass we used to call home.

But like I said, there’s nothing disembodied,
not what I’m talking about.  Sign your name.
Turn off that television.
This ain’t one of those nihilistic scenes lit by the
despairing blue light of the tube.
Find ourselves?  Lose ourselves?
I don’t claim to know the difference.
There’s nothing to lose I haven’t lost more times
than I thought possible.  This time, I won’t hesitate or wait.
If we’re lucky we’ll get a corner room high enough to
catch a glimpse of the moon to remind us of other shores.
Put on some Nina or Coltrane.
Find Abby Lincoln on the FM dial.
Incense, candle flame, papaya and cowry shells
mark the boundaries.

 

 

This body is home.
Look here.
This is the lush life
only for a minute.

Your train is traveling
south at 103 miles per hour.
Mine is headed north doing 98.
How long will it take us to arrive at
our separate definitions?
What time shall we begin, for real?
What time can we call it home?

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