Carol V. Davis: “On the Trans-Siberian Railway”



Now the land rises steeply around the train.
Even the birches appear starved in winter,
their outstretched arms pleading for food.
The sun fights through a colorless sky
casting anemic shadows as if
hundreds of bony fingers all pointed
in the same direction.
Four hours on the Trans-Siberian in winter,
the train chugging past fists of tiny
villages choked by snow,
plumes of smoke rising.


Today I am silent.
Not the usual fear of a foreign woman
travelling alone overnight in a berth
for four, as it is daytime, the coupes
without doors and I sit across from
a woman and her small child who does not
stop talking for six hours.
Outside 200 kilometers of snow and birch
also silent. The mother pulls food from bags:
meat, potatoes, sweets, offering me nothing.
These are not the Russian trains I remember
from decades ago where sausages, black bread
and vodka were passed passenger to passenger,
a guitar pulled magically from under a bunk,
melodies escaping through many doors,
neither language nor suspicion ever an obstacle.

Carol V. Davis is the author of Because I Cannot Leave This Body (Truman State Univ. Press, 2017) and Between Storms (TSUP, 2012). She won the 2007 T.S. Eliot Prize for Into the Arms of Pushkin: Poems of St. Petersburg. Her first book, It’s Time to Talk About…, was published in a bilingual English/Russian edition, Symposium, 1996). Her poetry has been read on National Public Radio, the Library of Congress and Radio Russia. Twice a Fulbright scholar in Russia, she also taught in Siberia winter 2018 and teaches at Santa Monica College, California and Antioch University, Los Angeles.

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