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In 1978 I left school to wander the country on a three-month bus pass. I slept in Greyhound stations or on friends’ couches and sometimes went whole days without eating. I was a skinny unworldly unpublished poet intent on seeing America. One afternoon at a bus stop in Ruston, Louisiana we picked up a single passenger, a huge man in a dirty plaid shirt, grease-stained khakis, and unlaced boots covered in mud. There was lots of room on the bus, but for some reason he chose the aisle seat next to me, falling into place like a boulder. He smelled of garlic and stale sweat. His hands were calloused, his arms the size of my legs. I was afraid of him, disgusted by his smell, and offended that his bulk was pushing me against the window. The forced intimacy of his presence was over-powering, but I was too intimidated to ask him to move, so I settled into my narrow space. After a while, I became comfortable with his warmth beside me and I dozed off. It was like sleeping with a hibernating bear. The sun set, and we hurtled through the dark forest. My silent companion, his elbow in my side and his giant curly head on my shoulder, was my guide as we passed through the underworld of the American South, carrying our cargo of souls.
Copyright 2020 Michael Simms
Michael Simms is the editor of Vox Populi. His books include American Ash (Ragged Sky, 2020).