Misjudged

Across the bus aisle, a woman my age,
neatly built and neatly dressed, looks past me,
through the window at the passing buildings.
‘What did he say? I can’t hear,’ I complain.
A man at her side, salt and pepper hair,
elbows on knees, sits up to respond
‘Boston Children’s Museum.’ Not my stop.
‘Are you all on your way to the airport?’
The woman stares, but I sense her retort,
Why speak to me? ‘Yes’,an answer from
a teenage girl, her smile, apologetic,
her ponytail, blonde, on the woman’s right,
standing, lightly holding the metal pole.

Twice, I’ve addressed you, and twice you’ve stared,
allowing those at your sides—your husband
and your daughter I presume—to fill in
your glaring gaps. Why would you be so rude?
Too good to speak to a fellow traveler
who simply asked you, “What did he say?”
No helping others out along the way?
Is it my southern accent? Or my hair?  

My thoughts halt as fast as your sudden tears;
I see your brow wrinkle and jerk them back
like a seatbelt jostling a slung out soul,
and then your gaze at something far away,
far from me and my need to be answered.

Three travelers look quietly ahead,
two obliged to respond to my questions;
and you, sunk into engrossing sadness.
Ashamed, I look down at my folded hands
atop rolling black baggage, your Sperry’s
in my periphery. The bus’s hum
deepens and slows. We stop, the doors squeak
apart, and we form our civilized line.

I see you step numbly into the street
to continue your private journey.
A gentle puff of wind tossing your hair.

Prayer at the Passing of a Stray Cat

You darted beneath my fifty miles-per-
hour in the same flash I wished my tires would
miss you, my right back-corner clunked, and your
twisted run streaked across my rearview.
I braked. Parked on the shoulder, dusky air
darkening. Darker behind gray-blue death-
concealing pines where I found you there
face down in your brown-straw rattling breath.
I sank down beside your brokenness, my
fingers tracing dappled fur, and speaking
no words until I heard and felt your sigh,
that earth-eclipsing exhaling bleakness,
and I whispered my trust-defying prayer—
‘I hate death,’ for you, and for us, still here.

 

Laura Johnson teaches English and ESOL at Fayette County High School in Georgia. She recently graduated from Fairfield University’s low-residency MFA program, and has been published or accepted by Time of Singing, Blue Heron Review, Literary Mama, Ground Fresh Thursdays, and others. She writes about faith and doubt, family and relationships, pets, and the general hazards of growing up as a human being. Check out her Poet’s Page on Facebook.