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CLOSE / Parnassiad


Peace and Other Stories


Fragments of a Formerly Active Sex Life



Late Night on the Uptown 30
by Marc Sobel  /  poetry  /  10 Oct 2007

 There is a curious man

About 40 years old

White, with half a cigarette

Dark, designer sunglasses

And a beige bowler hat

Sitting on the bench

Under a leaning maple

Across from the 72nd Street stop

 

Staring up, lost in the leaves

His attention is fixed

On something deep in the branches

A squirrel perhaps, or a shadow

And his head, thrown back on his neck

Like the mouth of an open tea kettle

Exposes his adam's apple

Pressed hard against

The taut flesh of his unshaven throat

 

On the jagged cobbled sidewalk

Near his feet, sits a briefcase

Heavily worn gray leather

Its face scratched and spotted

And a small metal chain,

Woven through two steel clips

Linked around the broken handle

 

The man's head dangles back

Unmoving, transfixed

And as the bus pulls away

I turn in my seat

Craning to see his fading visage

When suddenly, through the layer of soot

Caked over back window

He turns and stares right at me

His gaze unwavering, penetrating

 

Our eyes lock in mutual recognition

And in those pale green reservoirs

I see pure terror

The familiar horror of inescapable routine

A desperate cry for help

Phantom, unshed tears

 

In a rush of instinct

I pull the chain,

Surprised by my own spontaneity

Yet frantic to understand

The mystery of this extraordinary man

But it is three excruciating blocks

Before the bus lurches to its clumsy halt

And wading against the stream of traffic

Through countless faces of impatient strangers

Hurrying, toward some imagined destiny

I run until my heart thunders in my chest

And sweat beads dampen my brows

 

Finally I reach the park entrance

The moon sighing overhead

My lungs gasping at the humidity

But the bench is barren, desolate

A mangled sculpture of decaying wood and scrap iron

Coated in a crumbling layer of emerald lead paint

Filled with inexplicable despair

I creep toward its fleshless skeleton

A strange twitch rising in my neck

But there is no trace of the man

 

Exhausted, confused and vaguely morose

I collapse on the bench

The exact spot my nameless friend

Must have vacated moments ago

And stare up, searching

For the object of his scrutiny

 

Through the thickets of dying leaves

Golden and autumn scarlet

I see it, a shimmering orb

A globule of perfect light

No larger than a quarter

Yet brighter than the Sun

And at once, in a single breath

I am exhaled from my body

 

My eyes are frozen, unblinking

Grasping at the flickering light

Which bleeds outward

Stroking the naked branches

Even as it fades

A star collapsing upon itself

I try to scream,

But my voice is a

Soundless gust of wind

 

Finally, an elbow jabs my ribs

A sharp, impatient motion,

Tearing me from the light

My eyes stutter open,

Struggling to refocus on the shadows

And I realize I am back on the bus

The night has settled in,

Coating the sky in a layer of tar

Broken by a smattering of distant stars

There is a familiar adam's apple

Bobbing up and down at me,

"End of the line, man

"This is the last stop"
And as I pull myself up,

Anxious and startled

I stumble over something hard at my feet

A gray leather briefcase

With two steel clasps

And a broken handle.

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