On a Wire Through the Dark; The First Full Day of Fall
On a Wire Through the Dark
I’ve always liked to drive my bus at night—
The riders stand out more. Students and commuters
Vanish as though fading with the sun.
The riders who remain will claim a whole bench seat
Or huddle in a corner as though they need
Two walls against their backs to make their journey.
The company calls these buses trolleys: they aren’t.
Electric, they run on a crisscross grid of wires
Their dual poles connect to—the Overhead.
Worn places in the blacktop show the old
Metal tracks real trolley cars once used.
Gordon, the young black man who takes my bus
To his job (security guard on swing shift)
Asked me where they came from. When I told him,
He grinned: So with those trolleys gone,
That makes the tracks an Underground Railroad.
We both laughed. The first night Gordon rode,
I figured I liked him. Climbing on, he’d glanced
Toward the back. Although my bus was nearly empty,
A group of black men and women sat
In the rear-most seats. Paying his fare, Gordon
Shook his head a bit and smiled at me:
All those years we fought to sit up front.
Since then he’s sat across from me, talking
About his job (boring but pays okay),
His best friend (outta prison, so far),
His future plans (I wanna be a vet—
Take care of animals. Soon as I get
Enough saved up, it’s off to doggy school.)
Climbing off each night, he nods and touches
Two fingers to the brim of his hat: Stay safe, man.
Some people ask: Don’t you ever feel afraid?
As though I don’t know already, they tell me
I’m old and drive at night, that there are dangers
In the dark. Hell, I say, I’m eighty. Don’t want
To sit at home—my wife passed on, the kids
Long gone; this job keeps me out in the world.
Sure, I’ve had some problems. You get a crazy
Now and then, repeat deadbeats, someone
Who loves the juice too much and makes my bus
His crash pad. But I try not to call the cops:
I see how, drawing a different card, I
Could be that person. Treat them with respect—
An extra transfer ticket, a free ride
“Just this time”—they see you better, more clear:
As though their eyes go past the uniform,
And that makes me more human, too.
Some will ask your name, the more they see you;
A few even shake your hand, saying they like
That you’re their driver. You go on vacation, out sick,
They ask where you went, if you’re okay.
Drivers aren’t allowed to “accept gifts,” but how
Do you say no to a cookie from the batch
A mother’s bringing to her day care? I’ve smiled:
I can’t take tips. But now that Carmelita,
The mother, knows I like chocolate chip,
She holds out a box, chuckling: I made your favorite.
In winter, the Overhead can freeze—ice
In spots like insulation will encrust
The lines. My bus will lurch along
As if coughing, the dashboard light flickering:
No contact. Some nights, I start to wonder.
But almost always, I have enough momentum
To make it to where the wire clears again.
The First Full Day of Fall
The first full day of fall, I see the fog
Of my breath as I step outside before dawn.
The dark has sanded the low right curve of the moon
Like a nickel rubbed on concrete. Maybe its tug
On the tides will bring lopsided waves ashore.
But I’m far inland, staring at the limbs
Of the cedar that reach across my fence. They seem
To prefer the star-shot darkness that rears
Over me to that of the empty yard
Next door. Perhaps they get a better view
Of the moon from here. I search the driveway
For the newspaper—I’d gotten really tired
Of finding it gone come daylight, taken
By some kid on his way to school, I figure,
So now I come out in the dark to make sure
I beat the little prick, and what’s mine stays mine.
But then I think, What’s it matter? The news
These days is mostly bad: should I just let
The kid take it away? Would it serve him right?
No, I’m the one who asked for it. I gaze
At the misshapen moon—a chunk knocked loose
From our world so long ago, no one alive
Has known a sky without it. The darkness leaves
The wonder dimly shining on my face.