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En Route to the Mountain

                                    Marielle Prince

The pilgrims are warm in their wool sweaters,
but the women have handwork to keep themselves busy,
focusing on embroidering borders on blankets

rather than the slight perspiration, the angle of the sun,
the ache in their elbows, the fact that it’s teatime
and no one has come by with a refreshments trolley,

the children making palm prints and nose prints
on the glass of the train’s tinted windows.

Squatting on their seats, the children try to
keep their balance, knees pressed against the armrests,
palms against the windows in a train-cramped craving

to feel something like the cool October air.
Their eyes jump between lines of low shrubs
and the slow reflected progress of their mothers’ thread,

thinking that maybe after they have been to see God
they will sew a little faster. Or maybe not sew.

The men are sleeping, some medicated after ticket-check.
The children, looking in two places at once
(like God they think like God does), notice the rabbits

popping up into view like their mothers’ needles,
then disappearing like pills picked off sweaters, rabbits
shading the landscape like age spots on their grandpas’ faces,

rabbit specks in the distance or maybe on the surface
of the children’s eyes, some rabbits closer,
watching the train, some watching other rabbits,

rabbits thick like hedges along the tracks, more rabbits
than trees or fence posts, more rabbits than pilgrims
or pilgrims’ children’s fingers pressed against the tinted windows,

holding unaided onto the shaft of the train
as it pulls itself through the frayed edge of the day.

The outlines of the children’s faces fill in,
the rabbits withdraw under the children’s skin,
teacups appear in the windows, and the women say

sit straight in your seat and have a cookie.
The children obey, and the women watch them settle,
seeing that the sun is reproduced in their eyes

and that a bed of lavender is growing up from their lower lashes
and that their lids are snuffing out the fire.

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