SUBCONTINENT TRAIN

by Patrick Pfister

No palace on wheels, no bullet,
lightning or cannonball express,
just an old rattler out of the Punjab,
heading deep into Mother India.

As we roll into monsoon darkness
the ceiling fan thumps
like a nagging thought
and devotees in 3rd Class chant
Om Shanti Om

No landmarks, no monuments,
no tree on the horizon,
just a train trundling down a track
through Ambala, Delhi, Agra,
past sacred cows and carrion crows,
past temple lights winking in the night.

Thoughts, always more thoughts,
like scorpion-stung monkeys
swinging from the fan blades,
or like the long line of chai sellers
marching through the coach
followed by pilgrims, porters, beggars
—always more beggars—
and devotees who chant
Om Shanti Om

No switchback, no turnout,
no terminus in sight,
so on we rattle and sway
through Nagpur, Raipur, Naraka—
fan blades, thoughts, boxcars—
while devotees chant
Om Shanti Om Shanti Om

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Patrick Pfister is the author of two books: Pilgrimage: Tales from the Open Road, and Over Sand & Sea. His stories have appeared in various literary magazines and “Travelers’ Tales” anthologies, including Best Travel Writing 2007. His poetry currently appears or is forthcoming in Pearl, Juked, Blue Earth Review and elsewhere.