Last Bus to Reno

by RC James
First Place, October 2020
Judged by Jim McGarrah

Waitin’ on the last bus to Reno
out here in these long rusty hills
ponies run wild as ghost-shirt Lakotas.
There’s a stillness out here, alone
the moon is restless in its own vacant lot
there’s just nowhere for it to go
it’s lookin’ for me to give up all I know
but there ain’t even room enough for what I forgot.

Lakota ponies race over the ridge
with no riders, faster than memories
come calling, swifter than a lance
to my heart with all our old stories.

I remember, then I try not to remember
everything and everywhere the two of us sang,
you on the hood of that ’41 Ford coupe,
I thought if it was the last ride, I’d go.
Why you had to be so beautiful, why
I never made room for your dreams,
questions come down with the whole sky,
I just can’t tell exactly what it means.

Maybe in Reno, my buddy keeps tellin’ me,
maybe there you’ll hit the right combination
streets empty parking lots and the night
don’t seem too friendly or full of promise
to help set it right.

Lakota ponies race over the ridge
with no riders, faster than memories
of all our old stories.

I really enjoyed this poem for its ambition and its imagery. It is working on several different levels with the literal images connecting with figurative ones to create a poetic resonance, or thematic echoing that makes this work greater than the sum of its parts, which is what we all want, or should. Lakota ponies – memories, both race fast in our vision and in our minds and both are riderless without control. A lance to the heart causes death and the next stanza provides an image of emotional, not physical death. Maybe chance will resurrect that emotional death, like a gambling game might resurrect the narrator’s fortunes, but the odds are against hitting the right combination and so, we return to disappearing ponies and memories. One could argue that there is a mixing of metaphors here, but it doesn’t distract me from the thematic or vertical content enough to be problematic because, though different, they all connect ultimately to a leitmotif of loss and regret. --Jim McGarrah