Raised on words like “punishment” and “God will get you if you don’t do what you’re told.”
Nuns turned children into fearful, right-handed, little servants of the Lord
Then the atom bomb fell down on Hiroshima, North Dakota the year she turned sixteen
And she said, “There is something very wrong here. Do you know what I mean?”

Margaret lives in North Dakota. She is quiet, sensitive and smart; troubled by nightmares; raised Catholic under the dark shadow of a vengeful and punitive God. The dropping of the atom bomb destroys her already fragile balance. The infliction of that much destruction between humans is incomprehensible to her. She runs away to remove herself from the equation of a society in which such devastation could occur.

Satchel full of broken hopes and empty picture postcards that she’d never send
Her mama sitting on a front porch step, daddy frowning in the darkened doorway
Waving his regret.
Then she was jumping on a Santa Fe, summer night in 1947, bound for God knew where
And she said, “I can see destruction fast approaching. I feel it in the air.”

She knows the schedules of all the trains; has had them memorized for years. Once she decides, it’s effortless. She runs through the darkness toward the smoke and sounds and feels herself disappearing as she hops onto an open car. She feels peace for the first time in forever as she watches the passing landscape come into view inside the gentle swath cast by the rising sun.

On a road in Valparaiso she met a hobo named Old John
They hunkered own in a gazebo and chose a star to gaze upon
Old John said he could see her slipping and he asked her what was wrong
She said, “The rope I had been gripping turned to sand and now it’s gone.”
She said, “It’s gone.”

On the sixth night, she awakens from light sleep and walks away from their camp site. She casts her gaze upward and sees the visions: blood-soaked blue horizons and barking dogs statued for eternity in the flowing lava of Vesuvius. Old John stands beside her. She hadn’t heard his approach. He holds a bottle. She reaches for it.

“I think I’ll take another taste, Old John, to numb my heart,
God knows I’m falling fast as atoms through the sky.”
She said, “This world it sure ain’t no place to live in. But it ain’t no place to die.
No, it ain’t no place to die.”

I wish I knew what came next for her. Did she ramble across America? Did she fall in with Jack Kerouac out on the road somewhere? J.D. Salinger in New York City? Did she win the Nobel Prize for poetry that translated the darkest truths of the human heart? Or did she fade into the oblivion she felt so keenly as she stood there beside her only friend?