The Right Tempo
by Andrew Slattery

The train slows, the train speeds up
restless legs, can't sleep sitting up
so I walk the thin corridor between
windows and sleeper compartments.
Insomnia muddles all transactions--

the eyes shut then pop open, the retina
contracts and only offers the brain a flash
of white information. The fluorescent light
above the corridor is broken and emits
irregular cycles of flicker, I look for a pattern

in the flickering-- how long a sequence runs
before it repeats and starts over. My heartbeat
shifts to the same irregular measure. A man
checks my ticket, he smells like fruit
and coffee. I check my pulse to gauge

the effect of human contact, but he continues on
before we can establish anything significant.
I return my attention to the light
but I've lost count. Has the cycle already
run, or repeated itself-- I wonder -- could I take

that light casing off, jiggle the bulb
and stop that flicker-- I would put one
foot on the window pane and lift
myself up and lean across to the panelled wall.
A woman passes, she says something

but I only hear a low muffle.
The corridor air is compressed
by air-conditioning that releases
whitening atoms and coats all sound
emissions in a deep hum. My travel clock

is set to go off twenty minutes before
my stop. I look into the clock's face
and the glowing green hour markers dance
like a neon sign, I put the clock back
in my pocket before it explodes in my hand.

My scattered heartbeat detects a rhythm
the constant tap of the train wheels crossing
the track joins. The carriage slows, then speeds up.
The lights behind my eyes darken and pass
as the train rumbles calm on the rail.

Copyright 2021 by Red River Review. First Rights Reserved. All other rights revert to the authors.
No work may be reproduced or republished without the express written consent of the author.