Stranger on the Commuter Train
An artist type in dirty jeans
And a sweatshirt that blazes the face
Of Whitney Houston, mid-career,
Totters down the aisle
Of a rolling train,
Hand on every other loopy overhead rope.
He stops, considers my wife,
Sees that the seat next to her is free.
From across the aisle
We’ll, he likes what he sees,
A well-dressed woman, hair done nicely,
Bracelet, necklace with its own teasing shine,
A clutch purse as soft as a well-behaved kitty.
And I like what I’m seeing,
My wife getting hit on.
I stand, legs wide to keep my balance
Against the train’s sudden shift—
It’s a gripping drama for me.
He asks my wife, You going to work?
She looks at him, turns the page
Of her magazine she’s reading,
The train rushes through a tunnel.
He asks, What kind of work do you do?
My wife ignores him.
The train comes out of the tunnel.
He asks, Guess what I do?
My wife looks at him,
Says, I don’t want to have this conversation.
He nods his head,
Pulls at the front of his T-shirt
Until Whitney’s face stretches like taffy,
He gets up, hand clutching the rope above him.
The stranger turns and looks at me,
Our eyes red from what we overdid last night.
He’s a painter, I’m a poet.
I want to tell him,
She’s not talking to me either.
Career Change During the Pandemic
I tell my wife that I intend to study medicine.
From her end of the couch
She says, not looking up
From her sewing,
Think of the wounds that will never close.
I sip my wine, sip a second time.
I clear my throat and speak up—
I plan to specialize in pediatrics.
She says, Leave the children to their band aids.
No, cardiology in a spic-and-span room.
She says, That’s right, pull the heart out
And replace it with a ham hock.
Immunology has new areas of growth.
She says, OK, spell that word.
She bites her thread, bites a second time.
Picture me as an anesthesiologist.
She says, Think of your patients sleeping
Until Jesus tickles them awake.
Ear and toe specialist at Stanford Medical.
She says, You mean ear and throat—right?
I stall, I reflect.
Isn’t it ear and toe,
A top to bottom annual checkup?
I sip my wine—sip, sip.
I take off my reading glasses
And the lenses flash another idea.
I got it, I say,
Psychiatry in a tall phallic skyscraper.
She laughs and says, You can be Dr. Whacko
And the patient at the same time.
A podiatrist with a small office in a strip mall
She says, The patients arrive walking
And crawl away
With their toes trying to catch up.
I like my chair,
The halo of lamplight over my shoulder.
I pour myself another glass of wine.
I slap my thigh.
I know, I say slapping the arm of my recliner, liposuction.
I know, she says,
How about a male girdle?
I stall. I think,
My wife is not encouraging.
She doesn’t even look up
From her handiwork—
Needle goes into the fabric,
Then out of the fabric,
Like surgery, I think.
What is she making anyhow?
I watch my wife sew,
Thread in, thread out.
How sweet, a lab coat for our doctor daughter.
She looks me up and down,
A poet’s straightjacket,
A one-size that fits all.
Artichokes have spiked in price, kale and spuds,
Bags of frozen peas,
Chicken thighs, chickens breasts,
Domestic wines, beer and sparkling water,
Dented cans of tuna that were once 3 for $2.00—
Now, what, three bucks apiece?
The roll of quarters from the bank teller?
The coins did just that, rolled away.
Life is costly, so costly. Things go up, mostly.
On my couch, with a deadly book
On the lives and times of right-wing Vikings,
I glance down at the windless sail of my crotch.
I think, Dick, penis, cock, swashbuckling seven incher!
Do what the spuds are doing,
Inflate, stand up, show thyself,
Cast a shadow on the wall,
And be the rumor that the old guy with a dead lawn,
A scholar of sorts, the one who has increased his currency,
Is keeping up with that pound of hamburger
And closing in on a T-bone steak!
Thinking about Hemingway
Africa in ’32, Spain in ’36,
France a decade later
And then Cuba,
Where he purchased a boat
Rigged with a single sail, with a motor perhaps,
And learned to tie knots
In the failing light of a picturesque harbor.
Fingers, he was all heavy fingers.
His typing was like the pounding
Of elephant footsteps, rough and loud.
He carried in his big river heart all the elephants
He ever shot at close range.
He was a writer with a story to declare.
In his fifties, he stepped into the surf
And roared at the surf.
He launched his boat near the end of his life.
He had duty to snag a fish
That was not a fish
But a metaphor, man and the sea
Light caught on the sea,
The struggle of landing a big one, etc.
Hemingway got me thinking
About the flavor of metaphor
On a clean, white plate.