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Babushka - Peter Malakoff

For Bobby

my dear traveling companion


'Babushka' is Russian for




Often used as a term of




Once we laughed together


riding the freight trains from the thick eastern cities


to the wide emptiness of the Colorado Rockie's and the California ocean


Smoking Bull Durham roll-your-own cigarettes


we were stopped for hitchhiking  in upstate New York


and went to court in the judge's house during dinner


Standing there with our long ringlets of hair and Salvation army clothes


while his wife told the children not to be like us




I could see the light  of mutual  recognition


as their eyes met mine with smiles and secret sharings


He sent us off to three days in jail and they cut off all our hair




Stuck for three days in the same spot hitchhiking


on route 99 in the Southern California  desert


knowing or believing


that the moment we didn't worry about getting a ride 


we would get one


(because that moment would last forever)




"Telegraph and Haste, Berkeley!"


you shouted out when we got separated


on the freight trains at Wishram, Washington


on the Columbia River


You headed south on a flatcar 


me, watching the train go by


too fast now to jump


And we met there two weeks later


full of stories and laughter


proud of our train dirt and heavy knapsacks



Locked in a boxcar for two days in Willits, California


stranded  off on a siding  


peeing in a plastic bag and shitting  there too


eating  raw brown rice and sipping tamari


Some kids cutting through the train yards from school


heard us shouting and let us out




you are a Jehovah's Witness


sad, indrawn, resigned to be a good Christian


resigned to be 'married' to the Lord


not even looking me in the eye when you talk  


except to warn me of my fate


in damnation


I shared my only heavy blanket with you


as we rode that empty boxcar


over Grant's Pass in the winter  


I loved you as my brother


Why do I feel now


that you are so afraid  to live


Did something scare you?




Was it the time we walked past midnight


late fall on the northern coast of Maine


our feet shuffling the leaves?


We passed softly into dream that night


and fell asleep so deeply


on a pine needle-strewn forest bed


that when we woke in the still  early dawn


it seemed


both of us had just been born


and in a golden leafy glory


we looked at each other and cried for joy 


just to be alive





Was it all those stars


crowding the sky


on that wild night train out of Salt Lake City


riding the outside


underneath a piggyback


freezin' and shoutin' out our praise to each other


in the wind


just to keep warm?





Was it your Father


who you always felt sad about


still  mourning  your Mother


sitting  alone in his small  room  




in a New York Ghetto


the windows all dirty?


Did you become this way for him




Because he never looked at the stars anymore?


Because he never shared


our causeless joy?


Because he never cried


till he laughed?





there are no causes for laughing in your gospel


Babushka we called each other


Babushka I call you now


and I wonder


if I ever really knew you


or we simply spent


some time together

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