Chelsea Rathburn




Why’d you wake me? We were on a train nowhere.
Blank country, white fields, black shapes on sky.

A bearded inspector screamed for our passports.
I wore all my clothes but couldn’t get warm.

I needed your help, and you, you were nowhere,
nothing, a scar, you were drinking again.

It was only a dream. Why are you crying?
Because I’d forgotten that kind of lonely,

and the train was so real, the inspector, the snow –
the dream came from something out of our past.

I couldn’t have been there. We traveled in summers.
If it happened, it happened years before us.

But the growling inspector – his face was pure menace,
and you couldn’t help me, because you were drunk.

That never happened. I didn’t drink traveling.
Go back to sleep. I’m not listening to this.



In the perverse logic of sleep, she accepts the explanation
offered: he has made some mistake that she must pay for:
they must live together again, two years after the divorce.
How to explain this in the morning to her lover – the man
she believes she was born to love, that her body
was built for – who wants to know why she is crying.

It’s been evening all day long – it’s been evening all day long

And maybe the puzzled lover has it right: the dream
is not that frightening. How to explain that the problem
is that the husband appears in it at all. How to explain the memory
of a dark car in heavy rain, the miles of two-lane road
and Alabama pine, and logging trucks hurtling toward them.
At every curve, a white cross, a name, silk or plastic flowers.
Counting thirty-nine of them before she shut her eyes.
How little faith she has in anything.

It’s been evening all day long – it’s been evening all day long

Most days she forgets what living with him was like,
the cruelties, indifference. But here is a story with the makings
of a dream: just before the separation, in New York to visit friends,
they stop outside the Museum of Sex. Her husband asks,
shyly, if she’d like to go in. What good would it do us now,
she says, and they go to the Empire State Building.

It’s been evening all day long – it’s been evening all day long
and how can something so old be so wrong?

Italicized lines in Bad-Marriage Bop are a quotation from the Silver Jews song “Trains Across the Sea” by D.C. Berman, copyright 1994 Civil Jar Music (BMI). Used by permission.
CHELSEA RATHBURN‘s second collection of poetry, A Raft of Grief, won the 2012 Autumn House Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from Autumn House Press. Her poems have recently appeared in Green Mountains Review, Mead: the Magazine of Literature and Libations, and New England Review. She lives with her husband, the poet James Davis May, and their daughter in Decatur, Georgia.


Read more by Chelsea Rathburn:

Author’s Website
Poem at The Poetry Foundation
Poem at Verse Daily
Poem at Mead