Off the Rails

A Sestina

Jess C.
3 min readSep 19, 2022


Photo by Charlie Mathot on Unsplash

So many nights you’ve traced you fingers along the jagged
Lines criss-crossing her arms like a subway map, each scar a train
That she swears is out of service; but you still wonder where they lead,
What coaxed her underground, left her on that desperate platform to catch
That elusive ride, that escape that never came. Your fingertips constantly
Coast along those abandoned lines, and you close your eyes to picture

Her, in her wanderlust, laying those tracks; in all her old pictures,
You think, she looked so happy, but then you see the the rigid, jagged
Smiles in those frames, the fear in those eyes that stare, forever, constantly
Into the middle distance, and you think, how amazingly well-trained
We are to ignore the pain of others. In the morning, you rise early, catch
Her unaware as she pursues her daily rituals; put down her coffee and lead

Her, hesitant but curious, out the door. The sky is the color of lead,
The air smelling of bonfires and the promise of a storm. This is how you picture
The landscape of her mind: a barren highway, roadside blossoms upturned to catch
The rain, and her, barefoot, stepping gracefully across the jagged
Cracks in the dusty asphalt — a poet, a wanderer, a woman well-trained
In self-destruction and well aware of how ever vigilant she must be, how constantly

On guard she must be to not lose herself in those cracks. You lead her constantly,
Patiently forward, her eyes flitting along the stretch of road until they’re lead
To their natural focal point; she takes her first fumbling steps when she sees the train —
An antique boxcar — left on the tracks. It’s a relic, a cautionary tale, a picture
From a book of scary stories. “It’s my life,” she says, and her breath catches
As she reaches out to lay a hand on the cool wood, the paint chipping off in jagged



Jess C.

Jess (they/she) 🏳️‍🌈 Educator/artist/writer/parent. Under-slept and over-caffeinated. Currently showing at Essex Art Center(thru Sept. 15th).