The train swayed past cropped fields,
Barking collies, abandoned gas works, cows,
Brown bungalows with little gardens
And potting sheds, kids kicking a soccer ball
Down a deserted street. Behind me two teenage girls
Dressed in identical vests and white blouses talked.
“I hate people who are good,” one of them said.
“They want you to be good, too.” “I know,” the other one
“My Aunt Mary is like that. She makes me retch.”
I got up and walked down the wobbling aisle toward
The space between cars. Two guys were sharing a pint
In that conspiratorial way guys like to do.
I stretched my short legs and smelled their whiskey.
Night coming over the western hills, the lights of
The villages along ridges. I wanted to walk into
A house and be welcomed like some long-lost uncle.
I wanted to see everyone rise excitedly.
I wanted to smell the cooking, the wash, the closets,
The cats, the peculiar odors of various skins.
The girls were still talking but in lower and tenser voices.
Two more stops and we’d all be getting off.
I was taking the ferry across a sea I’d never crossed.
The windows inside the coach were beaded with the vapor.
Of human warmth. I ran my fingers along the jeweled
Before it died in the taunting arms of speech.
Baron Wormser, “Travel”
Art Credit Joe Deal, Kite, Chino Hills, California, 1984
This is my contribution to American Guide Week, a revival of the Depression-era guidebook series by the same name that not only was a document to people and places but also a guide “to get Americans moving again. Because the American has always been a traveler. We go because we can.” In curating The Paris Review Tumblr, I have come across Wormser’s poem numerous times, but for one thing or another it never felt right. Now it does. Accompanying the poem is a photograph by Joe Deal from his series “Subdividing the Inland Basin,” which recorded the suburban subdivisions east of Los Angeles but more importantly the reshaping of our own landscape with human hands. While Wormser is an East Coast writer and Deal was West Coast by way of the Midwest, both poet and photographer shared an uninflected style that’s dedicated to recording the present while never forgetting about the past. —Justin Alvarez