—after Philip Metres
Bay Area Rapid Transit, Oakland to San Francisco, 2019
I find the tattered pages of a madman, poems and plans strewn on a seat,
the sweat, the proteins in the cabin’s air setting allergies aloft, the smell
of someone’s takeout stacked in cartons wrapped in double plastic bags.
People congregate in hush and hustle, hurtle across a bay and through
a tunnel. More underworld than over. We breathe in an extended in-
between, a wish to be whisked, and safely. Here I have not been for years,
but BART’s the same, its unwashed seat covers may contain my DNA, packets
of the past, what’s passed, the missives of my early 2000s sadness. I studied
vocabulary flashcards here, wanting to pass the test that meant my life
could start fresh somewhere else. On my way to work I shuffled aside.
Strangers ceded space to strangers, nodded into headphones, avoided
one another’s gaze. We did not have phones with screens to shield us then,
and while some read books, I read lines on faces, wished those eyes would look,
and read me back—
Outside an AT-AT’s born from crane stacks. I’m missing
my kids, the weight of their bodies near mine is the happiest pressure,
the healthiest aperture through which the looking loves. A future I did not
Back then I thought my heartache larger than container ships
and just as watertight. Unbreakable. Yearning for a breakthrough. And you?
It’s not polite to speak loudly on your cell in here, but social mores say I can speak
across the aisle: Who were you as a child: boy or bone, wolf or merman? And did
your scales shimmer? Of course they did. When I was a child I knew God
was hiding everywhere and we might meet on a bus or train. A reason to be kind,
to seek the silver seam stitched in my enemies. And yes, I have seen God
in every child, even my own when they are bitter, mean. When does God leave?
Or is God still tucked in you and me, tucked also in the man who will someday
draw his AR-556 in a Colorado grocery store—is God there, even there—patient
in the produce section, when this young man opens fire while tangerines
and pineapples look on, perched like owls full of eyes, awe-full and all seeing.