Wheels

   
The doors labor open to the heaped
               clamor of commute—conductor’s
        drawl & static, the PA leaking

crackled locales &, below that, more urgently,

        a metallic rasp & chafe—kneeling there,
               a man on a make-shift contraption
        (ply-wood base, shopping cart wheels) pulls off
the painstaking work of carting himself

across the gapped threshold. Swaddled
               in a blanket—someone’s beat-up
        woolen blue—he wheels his bulk

on fisted knuckles to the pole’s brief

        mooring. That’s when the blanket
               falls & what’s left of his legs
        pokes through like stout elbows.
By then there’s no need

for pageantry, but when he reaches
               the car’s middle (there’s no one,
        now, who isn’t watching) he begins,

gently as his weather-worn voice will allow,

        to sing. Nothing intricate or too
               creative, this unadorned loop
        of a song’s just enough to contain
the four recurring lyrics—I got

no legs. He lifts his eyebrows
               like a choirboy, distinctly
        proud, before repeating

the simple fact of it—I got no

        legs. & as he sings, he rows himself
               forward like the song’s scant exhalation,
        & not his blackened fingers,
propelled him. Imagine the intricate

travelogue of those wheels—
               stippled asphalt, cobble, curb
        & impossible staircase—the endless

caterwaul of friction a sort of kindred

        music to him. Slick linoleum rumble
               as he threads through the aisle,
        clutches the handle, hazards
the gap to the car in front.

We don’t even need to watch
               to see how the blanket drops,
        the exertion of retrieval, the routine

culminating in four unreeled syllables

        that let you forget any touch
               of affectation. Because, showbiz
        aside, he’s answered fate not
with complaint or lamentation,

but with song (& let’s not pretend—oh yes,
               it’s coming: there’s something out there
        with our names on it): & we all

need a song that says mercy. Song

        that says O veiled & fathomless
               city, strangely bejeweled by such
        sundered & dazzling creatures,
hear our simple pleas because

there’s a legless man in the next
               car & I can’t stop feeling
        how our bodies speed

through the space his just held,

        how he’s the part of us
               that’s gotten there first.

from Tongue & Groove

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