The Bus to Alliston, Ontario

Snow packs the roadsides, sends dunes
onto the pavement, moves
through vision like a wave or sandstorm.
The bus charges this winter,
a whale or blunt gray
tank, wind whipping its flank.
Inside, we sit wool–
swathed and over-furred, made stodgy
by the heat, our boots
puddling the floor, our Christmas bundles
stuffed around us in the seats, the paper bags
already bursting; we trust
the driver, who is plump and garrulous, familiar
as a neighbor, which he is
to the thirty souls he carries, as
carefully as the time–
table permits; he knows
by experience the fragility of skulls.
Travel is dangerous; nevertheless, we travel.
The talk, as usual,
is of disasters: trainwrecks, fires,
herds of cattle killed in floods,
the malice of weather and tractors,
the clogging of hearts known
and unknown to us, illness and death,
true cases of buses
such as ours, which skid, which hurtle
through snake fences and explode
with no survivors.
The woman talking says she heard
their voices at the crossroad
one night last fall, and not
a drop taken.
The dead ride with us on this bus,
whether we like it or not,
discussing aunts and suicides,
wars and the price of wheat,
fogging the close air, hugging us,
repeating their own deaths through these mouths,
cramped histories, violent
or sad, earthstained, defeated, proud,
the pain in small print, like almanacs,
mundane as knitting.
In the darkness, each distant house
glows and marks time,
is as true in attics
and cellars as in its steaming rich
crackling and butter kitchens.
The former owners, coupled and multiple,
seep through the mottled plaster, sigh
along the stairs they once rubbed concave
with their stiff boots, still envious,
breathe roasts and puddings through the floors;
it’s wise
to set an extra plate.
How else can you live but with the knowledge
of old lives continuing in facing
sepia blood under your feet?
Outside, the moon is fossil
white, the sky cold purple, the stars
steely and hard; when there are trees they are dried
coral; the snow
is an unbroken spacelit
desert through which we make
our ordinary voyage,
those who hear voices and those
who do not, moving together, warm
and for the moment safe,
along the invisible road towards home.
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