An Encounter with a Drunk Indian

When I was a student at Rocky Mountain College and Montana State University, both located in Billings, I often traveled the 150-mile trip home to Sheridan by bus. Years later, I heard a radio interview with a writer who published a collection of poems based on her experiences traveling across the country on a bus. After hearing her read some of her poems about people she encountered on her journeys, I remembered a particular experience I had and was inspired to write the following poem which appears in this year’s issue of Serendipity Poets Journal.

Intoxicated Crow on a Trailways Bus

December, 1984, in the early afternoon,

I board a bus in Billings, Montana,

for the three-hour trip to Sheridan, Wyoming.

A college student going home for Christmas,

I sit behind and to the right of the driver.

Storm clouds gather, as the bus leaves town.

 

An hour later, he gets on at Crow Agency,

sits next to me, tells me he’s Crow.

I tell him I’m one small part Cherokee,

the truth, but he doesn’t respond.

I ask where he’s going.

He says nothing—we ride in silence.

It starts to snow.

 

In the darkness about twenty miles outside of Sheridan,

the bus is surrounded by white.

The driver, a robust black man, slows down.

Wipers slap their own rhythm against the windshield.

 

The Crow tells me he’s scared.

I ask why—he doesn’t reply.

He stands, stumbles to the back,

returns, places his long legs over my short ones.

 

The busybody behind me asks if I’m comfortable.

I tell her I’m fine—I’m almost home, anyway.

She marches to the driver,

tells him about the drunk Indian on my lap.

After glancing in our direction,

the driver pulls the bus to the side of the road,

approaches the Crow, gives his shoulders a rough shake,

carries him off the bus.

Driver and Crow disappear in the swirling white.

 

I see no buildings, no trees,

nothing to shelter one ejected from a bus.

The driver returns, mumbles,

puts the bus in gear.

Wondering, I disembark in Sheridan

to begin my Christmas vacation.

Have you ever traveled anywhere on a Trailways or Greyhound bus? Did you meet any interesting people?

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver