Monterrey to Durango, 1997

by Lorraine Caputo

A traveler composes the symphony of her train journey through Mexico two and a half decades ago.

Monterrey to Durango, Mexico (2ª clase)15, October 1997

Movement I

We leave behind those mountains of Monterrey, swirled and swathed with white rock. The chilled dust of early morning blows through my cracked and broken window.

We click by a hamlet of the rubble of once-homes destroyed. From the ruins of one adobe flies a zopilote buzzard. Our train of shattered windows and hard foam-cushioned seats, of dirty walls and dirty floors, rocks and sways through this landscape of age-old yucca trees. A hawk soars over the green desert thicket. Encrusted sand dunes sculpt the earth.

As we pass by a village of old-fashioned adobes, I snuggle into the warmth of the sun…

…and I awaken at Paredón. In those hazes of sleep, I expect this car to be full of Mexican Revolutionaries…

The train winds through low mountains, then horseshoe curves around a flatland, and once more begins to corkscrew through mountains. A hawk sits up on a rise of ancient basalt boulders.

The desert sand is laced with dried streambeds and footprints, horse trails and coyote tracks.

Movement II

We zoom past cornfields and jolt past a sky-blue circus big top as we enter Concordia.

There, a black-hatted man boards. His fashion sunglasses hide his eyes. He strolls up the aisle and back down, strumming a beat-up guitar, singing a corrida. He gathers his tips, then goes to the back of the car. He plays a few ballads, a fellow passenger joining in.

As we pull into the next town, a new voice, accompanied by masterful strumming, is heard. All women’s eyes turn to that man with his black hair pulled back into a curly ponytail. They nod, smiles on faces, whispering to one another.

(Who is that man? Is he some famous musician? Or are these women enchanted by his looks, his voice – those eyes?)

Near the tracks, nine youth in school uniforms stand. Their brass coronets gleam in the afternoon sun. A few practice notes drift on the afternoon air…and as we pull away, they play a clarion call.

The strolling musician is gone.

We continue our journey at a fast clip upon these old rails. The diesel engine hums deep. Vineyards and orchards stand in neat rows through this wide valley we cross.

Above a soccer field in Gómez Palacio bobs a blue and yellow kite. Children gather in the stands, watching its dance. A colorful clothesline flaps its laundry in the cool, sunny afternoon.

At Torreón, an old woman boards. Her silvered hair is covered by a black lace scarf. She holds one corner of it in her mouth, hiding the right side of her face. It falls away for a second, revealing a misshapened nose. Her cheek is deeply incised with wrinkles and her eye sunken. Her motionless mouth sneers. 

A little girl’s dark eyes peer over the seat in front of me. They dart away as I smile. Next they appear around the side of the seat and again retreat with a shy smile.

Movement III

As we ride into the sunset, we hug mountains of folded, swirled, crumpled rock. Shadows fall deep and long. The red soil is shaped into plowed rows and irrigation ditches. Fields of maize gleam golden. The bright yellow sun nears a blanket of periwinkle clouds touched with peach, edged with butterscotch.

I listen to the music of this train and wish I could write its symphony…




              counterpointed by

                   squeaking springs

Just before the sun sinks beyond, the bottoms of those clouds are etched in magenta. Then, the landscape, the fields, and the mountains fall into grays. The sky drains its pastel colors. Out there, to the north, a long plume of smoke blows from an orange bundle of flames.

I turn my eyes to where the moon has risen above the mountains. The rest of the way to Durango, I gaze upon her fullness, listening to the music of this train.

Cover photo credit

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