On the Amtrack train from Ann Arbor to Chicago I feel around in my backpack for my notebook because I decided I want to write something poetic. When I find it, I unlatch the tray table and scribble the words “Michigan summer,” two nouns, surface level description, because I’m not naturally that poetic and if I get stuck criticizing myself then I’ll never get anywhere.
There’s a different kind of warmth in Michigan, a tired and welcoming warmth that permeates through my chest. I write the words “accepts welcomes reminds warmth worth” and blink at the green and dark green trees blurring by outside, silhouetted against the yellowish white sky. The sun is exposed even through the opaque purple clouds.
Verbs condense descriptions. I’m not the first person to think of this; my high school English teacher wasn’t either. Verbs give a sense of context, and using the right verb helps frame an observation without wasting words.
My process for discovering poetic verbs:
The melted cheese on my breakfast egg hash reminds me of plastic in its consistency – that’s the comparison. To verb the comparison I note that one specific trait of plastic is the way it bends and warps without breaking – the melted cheese on my breakfast hash bends like a pungent plastic. Remove the extra: “the melted cheese on my breakfast hash bends and warps as I pull it apart with my fork.”
The branches of the trees we pass by look like fingers on a hand. Upturned palms. “The trees upturn their branches.”
The hot air outside is like a persistent noise. “The air conditioning in every building mutes the heat but tastes like mouthwash.”
“The scattered clouds above me look like blended pea soup left around the rim of a bowl.”
Hey, they can’t all be ringers.
I reunite with old friends whom I forgot have had lives without me and hug them a little longer than I used to. We pass by a station and the train whistles again and again. I imagine it gasps like an organ in an old church eeking out a lame pentatonic chord.
We arrive in Chicago an hour behind schedule and I first survey the inside of Chicago’s Amtrack station as we pass stone pillars and traverse multiple floors on thinly weaved escalators. It feels regal compared to the San Francisco Caltrain station. My eyelids are wilting and I squeeze out a last spurt from my water bottle. We take a Lyft to Kevin’s apartment and soon we’re asleep in the living room, the hourly train leaving us undisturbed, in our exhausted states.