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Train Ride

Flooded with bright orange and yellow the painting completes itself.

Poetry | Zuihitsu
April 15, 2022

This piece is part of the 随筆 | Zuihitsu notebook, which features original art by Satsuki Shibuya.

We take a compartment. I draw the curtains and shut the door so that
other passengers will believe the seats are all filled and leave us.

This rudeness is against my cousin’s instincts, so I let him take the
backwards facing seat.

He says it is the proper way to view the landscape.

The night in Aix-en-Provence we won’t be able to find a hotel, and the
hostel will be closed.

We will spend all night in the public square, reciting poetry to one
another, and receiving gifts from the late night locals.

Flowers, drawings, hot pastries.

This moment now gone.

I time everything to that current of lapse.

No absent time.

Even in deep space, there are particles of dark matter that do not add to
the mass of the universe.

Versions of the story wither over sacred fire. A prophet’s willingness to
be blind.

We travel alone all the way to Marseille. Or: while my cousin uses the
bathroom, two girls come to sit with me.

We have to switch trains at Dijon. Or: we never make it as far as Aix.

The source of a vision only a priestess getting high on fumes.

Snake-licked. Shucking off the old skin.

Blessed be the undone version. The train actually stalls on the tracks for
several hours, during which we contemplate returning to Paris.

It might only be a condition of the window-glass that allows me to see
the subtle ridges and gradations in the clouds, the swirling depth of the

A Cézanne painting on the cover of The World of the Ten Thousand Things is
so deathly unfinished it looks nearly transparent. Pencil marks on the

Later, in a vestibutle between cars, the Provençal sun setting. I catch sight
of the book’s cover in the reflection of the window.

Flooded with bright orange and yellow the painting completes itself.

Is that all: a quest for fulfillment satisfied by the correct conditions?
In this case, supposed chromatic equations of the southern skies—my
cousin explains it: yellow in Arles, green in Aix, purple on the Côte

Later he will return to Paris, and I will hike alone to Ste-Maries-de-la-
Mer where Magdalen supposedly washed ashore with her servant Sarah.
Their bones are in a reliquary in the church.

Yet another church miles and miles to the north and east of here
continues the story: Magdalen left her servant and traveled inland with
the gypsies and died there.

Another set of bones in that church.

Unlike in mathematics, every quadratic equation in history does not
necessarily have an equivalent modular form.

Small handfuls only create an impression of a manageable amount to
hold. For example, I have left out the wild flamingos, a subtle swipe of
pale pink along their pearl-white bodies, flying across the road; also the
horse-back ride through the swamps of the Camargue, the hours I sat
in the small shack in the bird sanctuary, the black-clad gypsy woman I
saw in the market.

In the gypsy fortune-telling book, past and future shuffle and re-shuffle.

As our journey progresses we do eventually open the curtains and the
compartment fills.

We eat the previously unmentioned camembert sandwiches.

We won’t arrive in Aix for several more hours and don’t go on to Cassis
for four more days after that.

Where, in another four days, in the mountains above the city, tired and
out of money and ready to go home, we will meet Mister Stevarius, the
Belgian Fire Eater, and everything changes.

“Train Ride” (poem) from The Far Mosque by Kazim Ali, Alice James Books, 2005.