Just for tonight, I’d like to be
that young trainman on the 6:45,
soothing the drunk who’s at least
twice his age.
I just need to get outta the city, man,
out out out—chin craned up, eyes turned
to a phantom calamity trapped behind
his brow-tarred bandana.
You’re doing good, buddy, Conductor
reassures, we’re already in Westchester.
Don’t worry, I got you.
I’m sorry I’m so sorry, Drunk babbles,
a husk of sobs choked through a tar-stripped
windpipe. Mardi Gras beads palpate counter-time
to his thin, tee-shirted breath. Nose, neck,
and cheek trumpet the rash of hourless days
spent sleeping it off, sort of, face down
on park greens and pavements
from Pugsley Creek to Dead Horse Bay.
Conductor stands in the aisle,
big bones pinched a few quiet inches into
the narrow bench where Drunk sprawls
against the window. Just near enough
to let Drunk know the caustic exhale,
the sallow mat of twenty-inch hair,
the stained white beard are no impediment
between them: that he is secure on this side
of oblivion, at least till we reach Poughkeepsie
where there’s no track to the river’s end.
Patiently, Conductor nods into Drunk’s disordered
syntaxes. There’s some unimpeachable logic
submerged between men, discarded underground
with the amniotic shield where it thrashes in search
of a portal of egress large enough to accommodate
their warehoused, encoded, ever-silent despair.
If they dare lift the matted head of such grief
above surface—as they call it in the mass transit biz—
certain disaster is bound to roar from its maw.
Knowing somehow what needs to be done, said,
and in what tone, Conductor soothes the shaky
old buzzard. Easily talks him down as if they were
childhood fishing buddies at dusk, poles tucked
in elbow notches—stage props in a play that does not
know it’s a tragedy beyond redemption. In this scene,
their nubby legs dangle from a rickety west side pier,
hearts immersed in safe, wordless exhaustion.
They are bone-tired from circling the edge of the pier,
then back again in endless avoidance, certain they
will drown if anyone witnesses their plunge into the mire.
The thin ore of a Pabst can sweats out their tears,
in almost-perfect rhythm to the lapping water below.