It's been quite a while since I posted any of the poems from my self-published chapbook (from 1992!). However, in getting ready to review Nancy Lee's Dead Girls, I wanted to refer back to this poem, but thought that it would be too awkward to stick this poem in the middle of a review. The link will become fairly apparent.
This was probably written in early 1992. I was still making the adjustment from growing up in the suburbs of Michigan and going to university in a college town (Ann Arbor) to living (and teaching high school!), in Newark, NJ. In a way, it was a pretty huge culture shock, as my "knowledge" of urban America mostly informed by the movies. While I was living and teaching in a part of Newark that was still largely white, mostly second generation Portuguese actually with a sprinkling of Italians, Poles and Brazilians, I did spend considerable time in downtown Newark (and the Library/Museum complex not far from the Rutgers-Newark campus). Once I crossed under the train tracks until I hit Rutgers, I would usually be the only white person on the street. It was an eye-opening experience to be sure. This incident, only slightly embellished, occurred as I was taking the bus back one night from a poetry reading not far from Rutgers. While this poem is certainly somewhat inspired by Audre Lorde's "To My Daughter the Junkie on a Train," the narrator here has mixed motives, to say the least.
In all likelihood,
this is it.
the bus is coming;
it is the bus you want.
a quick step up
you avoid the driver's impatient look.
and watch the other passengers file on.
a woman gets on
a beautiful junkie
at least you think she is a junkie:
her hands shake as she searches for her pockets
her shirt sticks to her skin
her face is tight
her eyes stare past the bus windows
she is certainly not here on this bus
you look closely at her
you get up to pay her fare
you know that this will cost you everything.
it is too late.
you exhale as she is put off the bus.
the bus starts up,
putting a stop to this particular, peculiar fantasy.