North Carolina by Greyhound:
First Christmas After the Funeral


The bearded man in Rapid City
wears a dress, and I sleep
through Minneapolis. In the backseat
a boy just older than me
slips his hand under the sequined shirt
of a girl laid out across his lap. He reaches
her left breast and works it
slowly, like dough. When we stop
at Bluefield, the bus driver gives me
thirty-cents to buy
a bag of chips. And in the neon dark
Chicago is the smell of burnt skin.


My life is in this bus—
mother, sister and brother,

some stories about a father
and the South. There’s three years

of ragged comics
in my suitcase, and I’ve written

all the letters to Grandma
I can write. Soon,

my mother says, we’ll see
where he was born.
But the sign

says Ohio, the highway’s lost
to rain, and the hiss

and flare of cigarettes
has me coughing.


Wheeling, West Virginia, is a tongue of dirty river
licking at its banks, brick stacks
breathing fire, and a man—
whose skin I’ve heard of but never seen—
black as three-day coffee. The bathrooms
at the station cost a nickel
but some church has pie
for free. On the bus at night I count stops
by marking on my arms. In the daylight
I can’t see anything
for all the trees. Fancy Gap
stinks of rotting leaves and gasoline.


My mother’s hands shake
against the glass. Look,

she whispers, this
is Carolina,
her face so slick

with tears I can taste
the salt. I close

my eyes. I’m tired
of looking out the window,

of cheese sandwiches
and tap water, of all the tangled

stories. It doesn’t matter—
he’s not here either,

and I don’t even
remember his face.

Joe Wilkins will be joining the creative writing faculty of Waldorf College next August. His work has been previously published, or is forthcoming, in The Georgia Review, The Missouri Review, Northwest Review, Tar River Poetry, Boulevard, and Best New Poets 2006, among other literary journals. (jwilkins40@hotmail.com)

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761