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Mass Transit: A Suite in Four Movements


The Shape of Roots

They say the shape of roots reflects the leaves,
  That nature without knowing it relies
   On symmetry, as though nature believes
   That function follows form to human eyes.
I disagree. And follow Frank Lloyd Wright
  In arguing that form must follow function
  As surely as regret will follow slight:
  We err pursuing body sculpting fashion.
Tonight I rode a bus with some young dude
  With earrings and tattoos — God only knows
  All the disfigurations he'd endured —
  Artistically putting on a show.
I fear I saw his mind, the way he thinks,
  Reflected in the hoops, the studs, the ink.


Bouncing to the Beat

She's bouncing to the beat within her 'phones,
  Reading Reader's Digest for the jokes,
  Takes off her shades but keeps her glasses on,
  Then fiddles with her walkman.
She sits behind the stairwell at the back.
  The bus is nearly empty; still some ass
  Is standing at the door there with his cheeks
  Gripping the pole. Intent on reading, she
  Stares at something titled "That's Outrageous!"
She does not laugh or smile. Compared to us,
  The riders on this bus, it's just not funny;
  She'd commute some other way but for the money.
  She puts her shades back on and cranks the volume,
  Bouncing to a beat that's always solemn.


White Dresses

Bridal gowns flock thrift store windows,
  Worn but once then tossed, discarded;
  Emblems of love hung in gallows,
  Trains derailed, veils disregarded,
  Someone else's wedding sorrows.
Never will my dress be bartered,
  Thinks a maiden flashing diamonds
  In bright sunlight that imparted
  Levity on bridal omens,
  Not conceiving: journeys started
Always end. But why should demons
  Of despair and doubt distract her
  When white dresses offer humans
  Hope beyond what doubt can conquer?


Heading West

Heading west from campus... we cross the Platte and pass the field of evil
horses... where the home team fights... on the way to where we live...
close by those lifeless neon lights and lots now empty... blighted and vile...
that used to sell new cars... all glossy steel and shiny... one big lie
after lie after lie... and way before we finally reach the mountains' veil...
there sits a grim reminder... more defunct than living... symbols vie

for your attention now... a church where sun and rust must vie
with weeds and peeling paint for dominating current creeping evil
called Family of Christ... so prominent behind the sporting veil...
a Lutheran church that seems to lurk around the peoples who still live
in Catholic neighborhoods as if our Christian sorrow were a lie...
division and divisiveness... disdain and discontent so vile...

you'd think their Ten Commandments were all meant for other people's vile
beliefs and urges... crimes and vices... not their own... but still they vie
for dominance... a constant crisis that can never let sleeping dogs lie...
or maybe even take to heart Jesus's words to ward off evil...
love your God as if your father... love your neighbor like you'd live
with him or her as brother... sister... even lift the church's veil...

read the gospels... all of them... protest against that evil veil
that hides the sinner from the sin of never taking blame for vile
actions of your own... and when commandments do not help you live...
here's some more that come to mind... there is no running away... don't vie...
there's no such thing as casual sex... don't lie... and don't die stoned... that's evil...
but back to John and Paul... whose lesson... all you need is love... was lie

and George came back from India chanting of paperback writers who lie
and tax and steal and all for the greater good of keeping us all in a veil
of prosperity when we really need some saving grace from evil...
which Lord Krishna would supplant with dancing milkmaids... not with vile
wars between Hindus and Buddhists and Tao... when really the forces that vie
with one another are but thou and thou and thou... why can't we live

in three-part harmony... a love song that we all can sing and live
in peace... accord... tranquility... it's all wrapped up in one big lie
that's built on greed... insanity... humanity that yearns to vie
as if survival of the fittest of our species cannot veil
monstrosities that lurk within our genes so fearfully fierce and vile
that we just don't see the sin in killing earth for cars... the evil

sale of where we live... one world... to hide behind a cheery veil
of happiness... you know you lie... and veil ourselves to all things vile
that we produce and yet we strive with vice and virtue... in striving... evil.


Mass Transit Reprise

Got on the bus this afternoon
to take some photos for Mass Transit
(A Suite in Four Movements)
sat at the back and
took the camera
from my pocket

A young Navajo
sat down beside me
a big brave
with long shiny hair

Introduced himself as Luther
said he was going to the mall
to return a CD
that didn't work

I took a picture of the thrift store
through graffiti'd bus windows

it's June
and white dresses
are flocking the windows

Luther started goin' off
on how the white man
fucked his people
killed his women
stole his land
his breath was like a beery breeze
his eyes seethed red with hatred
and alcohol

"I wish I'da brought my gun," he said
"I'd shoot you right now."

I looked him in the eye
said, hey, I'm ridin' the bus
just like you are, man
(pissed me off though
he made me miss my shot
of Family of Christ
Lutheran Church)

Isn't it great to be hated?
so nice to be despised?

He said, "You know all those bombs?
Well, we're the ones payin' for ‘em.
We're gonna kill all you fuckers.
In about a month,
everything's gonna be different."

Something to look forward to
I thought

Riding home now
heading west
I sit beside pink frosted lips
bottle blond hair with a bug in it
and a sun on her back where
eight smudgy rays illuminate
nine tiny whiteheads

We pass a wreck
some car crashed right into
the Shuffle Inn

And the bus
just keeps on going


Full photo gallery

Text and photos copyright © 2002-2003, Douglas James Joyce.

Douglas James Joyce is a writer and rider of buses, living half-lives in Denver, Colorado, and McCook, Nebraska, where he teaches composition and literature. He is author of The Environmentalist: Environmental Law and Policy, and recently published "Metawriting: On the Use of Writing to Teach Grammar and Mechanics" in The Quarterly, a journal of the National Writing Project. Look for his novella, On the Bus, in March on Jerry Jazz Musician.

"Mass Transit (A Suite in Four Movements)" was originally published in different form in the Tucumcari Literary Review in 2001.