When I first saw you, you were shuffling
down the aisle of a crowded train,
pausing every few seats to check in—
“How do I get to Myrtle?”
“How do I get to Myrtle?”
“How do I…”
I’ll admit to feeling a prick of annoyance
(Not another one),
but it passed on realizing
your compromised condition—
a slight allover tremor, eyes milky with age.
You were lost, and without assistance.
When you got to where I was, it was time
to step out. Thinking fast—Myrtle…
Myrtle Avenue?—I said I could help you;
I reached for your arm, and you gave it to me.
As we stood together on the platform,
I asked you for more, for anything.
But all you could give was “Myrtle,”
plus a few extras like “want” and “need,”
conjuring an image of Myrtle not as place,
but as woman pined for.
I consulted a subway map anyway,
a matrix of colored strings to confuse
the spriest of us. Pointing out
various neighborhoods Myrtle Avenue traverses,
I looked for signs—an affirming nod,
flicker of recognition: home.
None came. Instead, a new word,
faint but there: “Lewis, Lewis and Myrtle.”
Energized, I trailed a finger, inching east,
and… Lewis. Lewis Avenue: a mere
three complicated train transfers away.
Daunted on your behalf, I did my best to explain
the complexity of what awaited
should you attempt again the train,
next asking softly if you had money
for a cab home.
You were keeping up well enough,
Because you pulled out a billfold,
which you opened and held open for me,
revealing a brave sad emptiness.
I told you it was okay, I could pay for your ride,
and you followed me silently, slowly
up the stairs and out into the circus
that is downtown Brooklyn at rush hour.
As you waited somewhere at my back,
I watched cab after cab clear the intersection,
every last one taken.
An irrational desperation crept steadily in,
erasing relationship woes, that problem at work,
until the only thing left to care about
was getting you out of all this.
I chanced a quick look behind—your face,
that impossible read—and a second later
a yellow car was slowing at the curb.
I filled in the driver, paying in advance,
in approximate, and he gave you a kind smile,
understanding. “We’ll getcha there.”
You took some time getting situated,
organizing your tired bones in that backseat,
and I stood there wondering about so much…
Your solemn “thank you,” eye-sharp,
caught me unawares, struck deep,
though I don’t believe it changed
Years out, certain evenings
when I’m feeling lost, lived up,
I take to Brooklyn’s quieter streets
and think of you and our exchange.
I hope you made it home alright,
home to your Myrtle.