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First-place Winner – 2019 Poetry Contest

In what seems another lifetime,
I drove a bus for Greyhound.
Riders weren’t allowed to talk to the driver,
and I couldn’t talk to them—company rules—
and I wasn’t allowed to look at a map,
at least not when anyone was watching.
I remember the long silences between stops
late at night, sixty people breathing behind me,
sometimes a baby crying,
or a young soldier on his way home, mumbling in his sleep.
Up front, I was the only one
who could see where we were going
and the only one who wasn’t really going there.
The midnight streets were crossed with cats
and broken into corners
by the same three colors of lights.
Then the lights would fall behind
and no matter how many times I’d driven the route,
in the dark I’d wonder if I were lost
and there was no one I could ask.

Maybe it was homesickness,
in one sense or the other,
that filled the bus
at the herd-shocked city terminals
and the small town stops at discouraged cafés,
always in the middle of the night.
It wasn’t unusual for guys to get on
dead drunk and sleep through the whole thing.
They’d be the ones who’d cry out a name in the dark
and I’d almost risk killing us all and turn around,
because I thought they meant me.
Nobody ever got a good night’s sleep,
not like they might at home.
They just dozed, or stared into the half-life
of their reflections in the windows,
imagining a happy childhood or dreaming of the future—
cheap heavens, maybe, but absorbing.


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Robert Russell is a recovering economist currently living in Madison. For over ten years he was co-producer of the “Radio Literature” program on WORT-FM, and was coordinator for the CheapAtAnyPrice poetry series.

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