The “City of San Francisco” uniformed dining car porter a middle-aged black man
walks the coaches and observation cars
taps a simple chord on the five steel bars of a well-worn hand-carried wood box chime

“first seating”
“first seating”

we are an hour east of Sacramento
a two-night run the Golden Gate to Chicago
Amtrak recently obtained ownership of the famous passenger train
but the Union Pacific’s unionized engineers drive it and porters manage passengers
young Amtrak assistants stoned on pot stand around useless
now we rise in the Sierra foothills out of the northern San Joaquin Valley
feel the effort of three diesel locomotives to pull twelve passenger cars
he seats me at a table for two in the dining car
a few minutes later he seats you across from me
we introduce ourselves
pick up the folded menus before us
polite conversation about the possible dishes
“Abigail” you say
I guess early twenties pretty casual clothes
San Francisco natives still dress to shop and socialize
suits and umbrellas for both men and women
I guess correctly you are a sojourner
I arrived several years ago

as we finish our meals the sunset begins in the west
I invite you to join me on the porch at the end of the sleeping car
to enjoy the technicolor panorama over the Pacific
last car on the train I have a roomette
two metal chairs on the semi-circular platform
overlook the rails rushing away
you mention your nickname, “Abby”, as a key to unlock our stories
you left staid New Jersey to follow rock bands in San Francisco
are 20, I wondered, 19, you sought medical help at a public clinic
that prescribes antibiotics notifies police
who tell you it’s time to leave California
give you money for fares and here you are

where we are is kissing
I show you my roomette offer a bed
you prefer it to the reclining coach seats
“I want to please you”
I realize fleetingly you probably said that often to band players
mother told me when I was twelve all men are evil
“even father?” yes, father
was I to be evil too, I wonder, did not ask mother
no woman ever before said she wants to please me
you in my arms
our mouths exploring
my body in yours
I don’t feel evil

during the night the train stops suddenly
despite their heavy suspensions and cushioned couplings
cars bump jolt and wheels screech on rails
we are not asleep
lift the blackout curtain covering the long window beside the bed
we are in a narrow mountain canyon with walls high above us
crews in darkness walk along the train with flashlights
shouts muffled
the Pullman porter knocks on the door
explains a rockslide blocks the train
he expects travel to resume shortly
you are going to enter Douglas Women’s College
“a conservative little school” you say
you don’t expect much from it
we emerge into the light of sunrise
on the northern prairies of the Missouri basin in Wyoming
you read quietly we make love
I depart in Lincoln you return to coach
in September you write unexpectedly from Montreal
you don’t explain why you are there
“can you come be with me?”