The smell lingers in my memory
And I wonder if you knew
you didn’t have to tell me
“Derelict.” “Alcohol.”
But you chose those words.
The smell of alcohol.
Stale, a part
of your fibers now, a part of your
mind, was unmissable.

You asked me why I sat next to you
“I didn’t think about it, honestly,”
I told you.
“You took up three seats and then
cleaned off one, so I sat.”
The car was crowded and I was going to start reading
Chapter Two.
“It’s a play by Neil Simon,”
I answered and asked if you wanted to read it.
And you said you really did
But wouldn’t have time
in your shiny current life
filled with floating
and consumption.

I sat by you on the train today–
gave you my copy of Chapter Two.
It wasn’t even a tattered copy,
previously memorized and cried on
by desperate thespians.
It boasted a brand new glossy cover
that Powell’s shipped to me on a
drag from the Midwest
which I forgot to pickup,
so was auto shipped to me again,
the whole three blocks or so from their suburban outpost to my door.

I don’t think about any of that,
as I hand the book to you and
you tell me about AA some more,
about South Dakota and your leg.
Hours later I could still smell your breath
Your clothes
And your tent.

“What will you do in Hillsboro?”
And you started to tell me
quietly so that the noise of
the train was across your tempo
and every word I strained to hear.
Reading your lips and your face
As everything fell at once
I realized you were ashamed of whatever it was you’d planned.
And I should have said
“You don’t need to be ashamed.”
But I didn’t.
Instead– “I could tell you didn’t want to tell me,”
The way your face changed–wow
read like a play.
“And don’t worry,
Tell me more about the people
you met today in your classes.”

“Some of them I liked
Some of them I didn’t.”

Yes, it is this way everywhere.
“They judge me, they are better than everyone else, because they got clean.”
we meet people we don’t like
and then sometimes we connect.
“Connect with them, John, the ones you do.”

It’s the same when you’re homeless.

And you said you would go
back to work in South Dakota,
two years since your leg was injured–
but you can’t do that stuff as a drunk
Sobering up to maybe get away from the damp northwest
And get to work again, you tell me
in slurs and sleeping for a second
during your story.

I hope days later that you might memorize some lines–
you folded the play, “I really
want to read it,” you said,
prior remarks to be ignored.
After gentle encouragement
it disappeared into a great many pockets.
And I got off at a stop that wasn’t mine.