Crossing Into Nevada

By Kara Lark

The California sun

Shines pink and orange across the Sierras; 

The sultry morning blossoms into a summer day,

The kind that casts a spell,

The kind that wears you down

Like driftwood

Under water. 

Now, at noontime,

The train has stopped,

And she disembarks

And feels the warmth against her skin. 

She sits down on a bench outside the depot;

Her father smokes his pipe somewhere --

She smells the fragrant tobacco

Wafting through the air. 

The earth’s heat rises from the ground;

Trees rustle, travelers shift and breathe. 

Thunder explodes above the mountains,

Far away.


She saw the Old Spanish Trail,

El Camino Real,

From the train window

Miles and miles ago; 

It looked like sage and sand  


Through lonesome chaparral -- 

They’d left behind a ghost town

Somewhere outside Coyote,

Then switched directions

To cross the San Joaquin.                                                                                                                  

This is the West, her father had said

As they sat before the tinted pane,

The lounge car rolling,

Side to side

And forward;

They’re still mining the veins

From Hangtown to Mt. Bullion.


She’d been deep inside the earth before

On one of those four-dollar

Mine tours,

Where the breath of a thousand miners

Exhales from dirt walls,

Thin and tired. 

Down where the dreams were dug up --

For some;

She can still smell it,

The ore,

And feel it,

The heat of desire;

Stood in the dim light,

Wooden rafters splintered

But strong above her head,

And marveled at how far they had to fathom

To find the seam.  

The things men did! The things they did, her father had said.  

And she agreed --


Somebody found it, she thought.

Somebody had the idea

To sound the belly of the range,

Past the cholla and the sagebrush and the snakes. 

And when they claimed the shiny stuff,

The nuggets of their fame,

Somebody thought to put pink and yellow roses on display --

An opera house at the edge of El Dorado,

Hung with portraits of the silver kings.

Now, listen, Nellie, her father had said,

Almost confidentially,

Even those who never found their dream --

You can sure bet their memories outweighed

Any eastern banker’s fortune.

Life is in progress, he said,

You don’t have to wait for it to come to you

On holidays and special occasions.


She rises from the slatted bench,

And lifts her gaze to the Sierran crest,

Ridges crumpled

Like a cast-off quilt,

Seams stitched with mule paths

Beaten flat.

They board the exhaling

Train, silver-sided


Matched with iron veins,

Stretching from 1868

To the Coca-Cola

Sweating on her backseat tray.


They say the devil lives in the desert

And oftentimes she’s thought of him --

Hiding, casting shadows. 

There are those who will not budge,

She knows,

No matter how they suffer

Sitting still.

But if he’s out there,

She wonders,

Why do the cactus flowers bloom,

And why does the darkness let the seekers through?