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On the Night Train Headed to Mars

Isabella Cho

Wilmette, IL

North Shore Country Day School


CAS for Database

my reflection, a moon amidst the dark trees.

sitting here, free water bottle clacking

in the plastic holder, i am wiser than i ever was—

          the battle i was born to inherit. my ancestors’ ribs held

          between teeth, safe in the lattice of my canines.

my past self: huddled, reeking of piss. i say, wait.

wait because in time we, like plants, learn to reason with our roots—

          here is my grandfather slung across my shoulder. mother in my rib, twin

          in my eye, swimming between my cornea and the world.

there are no other passengers. the stewardess, starched

in blue, has erased herself. the journey ahead—

          i plant my grandfather in the blistering earth, wait for skin

          to loosen. an oasis, pushing upwards from the parched silt.

          his bones, harvested, smell of liquor.

          sinew rots into eyeless tree. the wisterias cratering his arms are heavy

          and black. i boil them into tea, bitter, round in its acrid sugar.

what i must do now is sweep tea from my mouth,

brush palms on my pant legs and look for martians.

i, soundless, gulping red air, waiting

for green figures to climb over the glassy dunes—

          listen: the arched silence that precedes supersession.

i stay like this until i realize

that on this planet, i am alone:

          my flag, warm with dead stars.


With great control of poetic devices, "On the Night Train Headed to Mars" effectively delivers a meaningful message about a seemingly plain theme of searching for one’s identity; what makes this poem special, though, is the unconventional way the speaker approaches this subject. The vivid details create a magical imagery that paints the speaker’s ethereal surroundings.


Isabella "Izzy" Cho is a senior and member of the Class of 2020 at North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, Illinois. She loves writing because the process of articulating the ineffable is, to her, a profound exercise in empathy and self-discovery. Her favorite things include Criminal Minds, solitary walks in suburbia, and Ube Lattes.

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