A well-known secret about me is that I do much of my writing while I travel. The original version of this poem was written in a bus on the way to the Chicago airport. Melissa (my girlfriend) and I slept there overnight the evening of the Iowa caucuses. I stayed awake long enough to see Mitt scrape out his win, which he got stripped of later, after the recount. It was by a total of five people or something like that. That’s where you really need those folks who love numbers. But I didn’t think of them then. The next day we flew to Guatemala City where I wrote most of the poems in this collection while we bused around Central America.
Central America is one of the worst places to ride the bus. Don’t let people tell you otherwise. For example, Melissa and I had to take the bus from Guatemala City to the Mayan ruins at Tikal. The bus was comfortable enough, but the driver only had two settings for air—sweltering and freezing. Because he was at the front where it was toasty, he chose the latter. We covered ourselves with coats, but it was still so unbearable that no one could sleep. If you want to force yourself to study the darkened landscape of Guatemala, that is one way to do it. If you go to Tikal, there’s a great place to get pesto pasta while you look out on the lake. You can also choose to ride the chicken buses around Guatemala. If you research the chicken buses, though, you learn that they regularly run into things at fatal speeds, drive off cliffs.
When I was younger, I often rode the Greyhound or the Peter Pan buses. In the Peter Pan, they are absolutely serious that you must not talk on your cell phone. I once saw an angry passenger take a cell phone from a guy who wouldn’t finish a call from his business partner. The angry one took the cell phone to the driver, and everyone else on the bus applauded. I might have applauded too. I can’t remember. It was very weird. How many minutes did he talk more than was socially permissible? I don’t know. How can you calculate the margins on a thing like that?
But what am I even saying? I wrote the poem on the bus in Chicago, but it really became what is now when I revamped it in Riga, Latvia. Being in Latvia involved word problems. If I want to buy a movie ticket for 3 Lats and each Lat is worth 1.86 dollars, how heavy is my bag going to be because the smallest bill is 5 Lats, which is nearly $10. So, you have to carry around a small sack to keep your coins in. How else are you going to do it? You’re going to look like you’re in a Renaissance fair with your small sack of coins. You’re going to be Bilbo Baggins. Just accept it.
On a bus, someone will knock at the door if you’re in the bathroom too long. They will knock as if to remind you, “Hey, you’re in our bathroom.” In Latvia, I took baths a lot because I had this entire apartment to myself, and, hey, it relaxed me. Something about the water helps me keep rhythm or something. I’m not sure. But I always worried that the staff would complain. Maybe I was using too much water. I worried someone would knock at the door and say “Hey, you’ve been in your bathroom too long.” Maybe it would be that guy from the Peter Pan who took the cell phone. Maybe that was what he did. But no one ever came. They did ask me one time to come to breakfast a little bit earlier, which was fair. All of these things, these communal services, they’re a negotiation. They even had a negotiation when Mitt incorrectly won the Iowa caucuses. I mean, it was a negotiation that ultimately didn’t matter, but a negotiation none the less. It mattered to someone who voted for Santorum. Some guy who probably walked around knocking on doors.
Kyle McCord is the author of three books of poetry including Sympathy from the Devil from Gold Wake Press. He has work featured in Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Gulf Coast, Third Coast, Verse and elsewhere. He’s the co-founder of LitBridge and co-edits iO: A Journal of New American Poetry. He teaches at the University of North Texas. His poem, “[for the sake of this mathematical hypothetical]” appears in Hayden’s Ferry Review 52.