Maintenance Never Stops

It’s like those old songs
about beer bottles or a man
climbing over a mountain.
I have a mountain of debt,
a kid to feed, a deadbeat
husband somewhere.
I come from a long line
of hard-working women,
a train of blistered hands,
fingers stained with red clay,
coal tar, hen’s blood. Straight
as a rail from mules to iron
horses. Union wages
help some but I face a
lifetime of piston grease,
working on the railroad
all the live-long day.

To the Young Man Who Made Me Espresso on the Local from Arles to Agen

You schlepp your cart of junk food
up and down the aisle past
commuters past mothers with small children
past tired tourists like me
and you’re probably underpaid and bored

But you made my day
when I realized that was an honest-to-God
espresso maker on top of your red cart

I lifted my hand
Said Espresso, s’il vous plait
and handed you a two-euro coin

After a moment of hissing and steaming
you passed me the tiny paper cup
a thin packet of sugar
a stirrer (as I’m sure you do for all passengers
day after day who need a quick wake up)
politely taking no notice of my bad accent
as I said Merci
almost exhausting my French vocabulary

I sipped the espresso—so delicious—while
the train passed wild pink flamingoes standing
at the edge of the blue Mediterranean

Yet of all the marvels I saw on that train ride
I remember most vividly that
one cup of perfectly brewed espresso

And I’ll bet you have no idea I’m still thinking
about how good it tasted six months later
back home on a foggy fall morning
as I watch ordinary brown geese
land in the placid gray river

I can still hear your cart
clanking up and down the aisle
still smell the coffee brewing
still picture that paper cup
steaming in your delicate young hand

Pat Valdata is a poet and novelist. Her book about women aviation pioneers, Where No Man Can Touch, won the 2015 Donald Justice Poetry Prize and was published in a revised edition from Wind Canyon Books in 2023. Her other poetry books, Inherent Vice and Looking for Bivalve, are sadly out of print. But her three novels are available. Check them out at