Darlington (The New Cocktail Hour, 2016, etc.) presents a collection of slice-of-life moments on a Chinatown bus.
This series of untitled, undated journallike prose poems was written, in part, on the titular “China Bus,” which travels between the Chinatowns of Philadelphia and New York City. Darlington evokes a milieu where riders smoke cigarettes, sob after too much alcohol, and debate the number of sexes beyond male and female. On the bus, the seats are constantly busted—and you’d best not touch underneath. “The China bus goes every hour between every city on the planet, and no one on it is quite alright,” Darlington writes. As one’s mind tends to do during commutes, the author’s train of thought wanders. He recounts running out of gas during a trip to the Yucatan, how “in the Himalayas…drivers pray to little plastic gods taped to their dashboards,” and a breakup in a fancy Chicago hotel room. Darlington’s missives reference sources as diverse as the tribes of the Great Plains to Sigmund Freud to the musical group The Handsome Family. His observations are quotidian but incisive; he wonders where a child found an ice cream cone so early in the morning, compares the fashion scenes in New York and Philadelphia, and studies sex workers like a sociologist: “We are all looking for a better situation than the one we find ourselves in. The hookers are better off than me financially, and they certainly have more clothes,” he writes. There’s a subtle yet authentic undercurrent of sadness to the daily weirdness that he experiences on his commute: “I wonder if any of the other travelers on the bus are like me. I have already died, and am a ghost traveling to New York to get a decent epitaph.” These stark passages serve as glimpses into others’ lives and feel complete even when as brief as a paragraph.
A vivid, intimate collection of memories, ponderings, and portraits.