BY ANDERS CARLSON-WEE
We crammed in McAlpine’s Pulse and drove
west out of Fargo to see the train wreck.
Late summer and the heat moaning from
the radiator, smoke gushing from the seams
in the hood, all of us snake-biting
McAlpine’s neck when he admitted
he’d thinned the coolant to try to make it
stretch. We passed Whale-O-Wash
where the volleyball girls held up cardboard
signs, did barefoot high kicks in bikinis,
offering five-dollar specials to raise funds
for their team. We passed M&H Gas.
Ironclad. Rickert’s Bar. The Hardee’s
parking lot where the Mexicans lounged
on the hoods of their cars, but we didn’t
flick them off because we knew about Garcia,
who’d just hung himself in his father’s closet
with a belt. Skateland. Hebron Brick.
The church on Division boarded up
and watermarked at the windows, signed
by the height of the flood in the spring.
Indian Triumph. Curt’s Lock and Key.
Ameristeel where McApline worked
with his uncle on weekends. The bums asleep
on layers of newspaper in the bushes
beside Bell State Bank. Tintmasters. Dakota
Electric. The rubble and brick where last winter
a lady carved a swastika into her wrist
before burning down her fortuneteller business.
The old folks home where wheelchaired vets
waved out the windows at whoever
came by. Bozak flicked them off
and we all laughed. We passed the last
trees on the edge of town and gunned down
a county road through the ripening beets,
cranking up the windows and blasting the heat
as McAlpine pushed the Pulse above 90.
We called this Operation Desert Storm––
the North Dakota roads so flat and straight
you could hit 95 before the car started to quiver,
McAlpine screaming into the windshield:
Oppy Desy! Oppy Desy! All of us peeling
off our shirts and wearing them like turbans.
As we hit 99 I dug a onesy from the glovebox
and packed it and held it to McAlpine’s
trembling lips. This one’s for Garcia, he said.
We passed 100. Out in the fields the heat-
lifted kinks of cargo came into view.
It was the wreck we were looking for––
a junker from Wolf Point, Williston, Minot,
Grand Forks. A local. Low priority. Loaded
with hoppers, tankers, Canadian grainers,
gondolas hauling scrap-metal to Duluth.
Somehow the clay and rain had fucked up
the rails and caused the freight to buckle
at the couplers, but nobody had died.
The conductor and his crew rolled on down the line,
drifting in the engine unit, watching
in the rearview as the mile-long train turtled
into the sugar beets and began to pile.