People write poems for many reasons. It Is Daylight is my first collection of poems. The poems in it came from things that happened, and from things I imagined. This one story is something that may or may not be worthy of poetry, but we all have had the times we think of as the longest nights of our lives, and this was one of mine, and poems are part of that.
I spent a night in this place.
a)I am a huge Mr. Rogers fan.
b) Trains are part of our dreams.
c) I had amnesia, but now I am okay.
I was going to a friend's wedding in Connecticut over Labor Day weekend. At the time, I lived in Iowa City. I flew to New York for a visit, and then I took the train from Grand Central Station to the wedding, near Danbury.
I went to Grand Central feeling fine, bought a tea and a newspaper. Grand Central is nice; I almost never mind going there, and like the routine. I like the ride to Connecticut, too, and I had nice memories of listening to music and thinking about whatever was going on, along with emotions and images, and feeling like I was outside of time. I didn't usually read the paper on the train, and that might have been one of the only times I've ever bought the newspaper for the ride, but I had just come to the end of a long relationship that culminated in a harrowing week involving a moving truck, arguments, and even an ambulance and some vomiting. I was looking to be diverted. I read a long magazine article about language and brain science; then there was a lapse out the window; and then a newspaper article that described a violent shooting. The greenery outside the train in the afternoon was familiar, and even though I was aware of feeling different kinds of sadness, none of it seemed especially new, and so I assumed I would have fun.
In Connecticut, a friend of my friend picked me up. I was going to stay at his house with some other people. He was friendly, and we went back to the duplex he shared with his girlfriend, where they each lived on one side. Other people were there, too. We sat in the yard and drank water. We didn't have much to talk about, but everyone was nice. Eventually we went inside and got dressed to go to the wedding.
We carpooled there. The wedding was fun, and there was an end-of-summer feeling that is nice to revisit. It was sunny and got drier later in the afternoon. The wedding was at a historic house, and the ceremony was on the lawn, under a long arbor. It seemed like most people were wearing black, and, in September, when the grass feels deep and bright toward evening and what we all understand as a golden afternoon is taking place, everything can seem formal.
There was a big wraparound porch where they had the cocktail hour, and I saw some people I hadn't seen for a long time, and that was nice. We talked and smoked, and it seemed like most people got drunk. At some point I did what I normally do, which is go in the back and smoke with the kitchen staff, but then I ran into a neighbor of my friend's parents, who was known as the local molester back in the day. It was awkward and non-threatening. During a re-cap, my friend said, "Oh, Mr. So-and-so," and told a story about how her mother had warned her against him.
We had dinner, and there was dancing. My friend and her husband, and all of us, were together.
When it was over, most people went home because of work. It was around 10:30 and I was wide awake and drunk. In the car, we drove past the others, and some people yelled things at each other. I thought about sleeping in the duplex, and then getting up early to get the train back to the city, and that it would be sweaty, and how I would get myself to La Guardia, O'Hare, Cedar Rapids, the fields outside the airport on I-80, and my bed and sheets upstairs in my house where nothing would be moving, and I would eat something from someplace nearby and talk on the phone.
When we got back to the duplex, everyone went to bed. I thought about eating crackers in a bathroom somewhere. The living room was dark except for the one light that people leave on in deference to civilization, and the duplex couple was next door watching TV. I felt like I was on a fake version of Earth, where my brain was dry, and in order to survive I would have to leave, except that I didn't have a plan about where I would go. I went upstairs to my room, and even though this couple didn't have children, and I am not a boy, I felt like their 13-year-old nephew. The room was like a boy's room, slightly nautical, with a navy blue comforter and a dark carpet and desk with a clock on it. I even started to set the alarm as if I were going to stay, but as soon as I was doing it, I knew I should be calling a taxi, which I did. Taxis in the suburbs are weird and depressing, because they are mostly for unusual circumstances, and this was.
It was like I was a runaway. In my room, I changed out of my dressy clothes for the wedding — my dress, nylons, and heels — and went in the bathroom and washed off my make-up. I put on jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers, put my hair in a ponytail, and put on my backpack. I was like an orphan, or a scrappy hobo on an adventure. I wrote a note for my hosts and quietly went out the screen door.
Like all hobos, I was almost home-free when I was caught. Just as I closed the door, my friend's friend who had picked me up from the train station came out of the other screen door, and I saw his girlfriend sitting on the couch in front of the TV with her legs out and bare feet on the coffee table. She was nice, and earlier we had talked about the bedding website, The Company Store, and right then I felt camaraderie and jealousy that she was in her house in her shorts-pajamas.
He was slightly annoyed, but just like in not-real-life, the cab pulled up. I asked the cab driver where there was a train station and a diner. He took me there, to the all-night diner in Danbury, where the train station was across the street. In the diner I ate an omelet and blueberry pie, and then sat for a while. The next train was at 6:30, and it was a few hours until then. I decided to keep going. I walked across the street to the train station. It was calm and clean and I thought that this wasn't so bad. I found a place near the corner of the small old-fashioned station house by the gravel tracks, and put my head down on my backpack. I did what people do: I looked at the sky; I looked down the tracks; I had many feelings; I wanted to sleep but couldn't; I felt afraid and wanted to be home. I don't know how long this went on, but eventually the cleaning lady came by. She said, "You can't sleep here because we're closed." This made me angry, because I knew about hobos and train stations. She asked me if I was looking for the train station, and I said yes, even though this was the train station. She said, "This is the train station museum. You can't stay here. The train station where you get the train is over there." She pointed across the pretty tracks that were now clearly fake, to the concrete platform above the real tracks that could kill you. There was a low building on the platform and posters for musicals. It was familiar and surprising, like seeing the light come in, which would happen soon. I listened to her and left and went across to the other tracks. It was getting humid and light gray, and wisdom was not upon me.
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Arda Collins, the 2008 winner of the annual Yale Series of Younger Poets competition, lives in Denver, where she is pursuing a Ph.D. in poetry. Her poems have been published in journals and magazines including The New Yorker, The American Poetry Review, A Public Space, and others. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop where she was a Glenn Schaeffer Fellow.
Books mentioned in this post
Arda Collins is the author of It Is Daylight