Stage Directions for a Rush Hour Oratorio

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.

What are you looking for?