This morning as I was walking past the school bus stop in the new subdivision I overhear a young girl—He wears the same clothes everyday. I don’t think he even takes a shower. Have you smelled him… Someone else joins in, but I walk out of listening range. These bits and pieces one picks up. I sometimes sleep in my clothes now that I don’t work anymore, I want to tell her, but I am just an old man walking by, perhaps someone she doesn’t even see.
I am trying not to think about the news this morning. The hurricanes have gone, and while the debris of the storms are still piled in the streets of Texas and Florida, houses flattened on several islands, the talk moves back to North Korea and the pissing contest between men who are the designated leaders of two countries—one threatens fire and fury like the world as never seen, the other promises ash and darkness. I have friends who rally behind one of them, though I use the word friends liberally.
I find myself thinking about the boy who wears the same clothes every day. I wonder what he eats for breakfast—if he eats breakfast. I wonder if the girl who is talking about him knows the damage she is doing—it’s only something she’s learned from the rest of us, those of us to followed then set precedent. This need we have to be somehow better than someone else—worse, to render the other less.
Even this commentary runs the risk of being little more than declaring myself to be somehow above the fray.
I sip my coffee, eat my toast with olive oil, listen to my Spotify playlist called Laid Back Coffee—Carole King singing “You Got a Friend,” look at the oaks outside my window—last night Charley and James spotted a small copperhead on the brick wall next to my front door—we left it alone—another sip of coffee. This morning at five, I picked up Craig to take him to work. His car is in the shop getting a new engine. Barbara is spotting him the money. Craig tells me he will pay her back with the lion’s share of his paycheck—and he probably will. But getting up at four-thirty—Barbara is in Austin babysitting—has disrupted something in my body’s chemistry. My walk was slower this morning, my typing slower, my brain—
Truth is, I don’t feel very much above the fray. I am an old man walking past young kids at a school bus stop.
We wait across the street from your house in Perris for the bus to take us to school—we are in the fifth grade. I get there early every morning just to watch you walk out of your house. To the north there are snow topped mountains. Underneath those mountains in Redlands a girl heads to her kindergarten class. I meet that girl years later in east Austin—we are both teaching Jr. High. The last time I saw you, the poet writes, I was playing baseball. If you saw me, you hid it well—I imagine you alive, emerging from your house.
Coda: Though the poet imagines her alive, the girl who sat in a car on the side of the road while he was taking infield with his little league team dies in Arizona six years ago. He never got to tell her—