You’re inside a reality as dripped by Jackson Pollack
everything guided, everything only seeming
accidental. Straight lines eaten by curves and color
as a sense of inevitability. Somehow it turns out as thousands
of interlocking narratives, never a single start and everyone ends up
getting their inevitable finish just as everyone ends up getting
the seat on the bus they’re supposed to get.
Across the aisle there’s a redheaded woman with an uncreased face
and wide staring eyes: you can’t help listening
to her work up to some sort of epic oversharing
inflicted upon a passenger trapped and unnerved enough
to ring the bell early and scurry off without an apology.
The redhead: you know there’s damage there
the question being, are there kernels of truth in her epigrams
did she actually hit the scratch-off lottery thousand-dollars-a-week-for-life prize
and how does that fit in with her restlessness?
Changing seats, shifting the elastic and straps of her backpack,
jogging her foot and, wouldn’t you know, she’s getting off at your stop.
You’re heading for your psychological medication consult,
going to meet that compulsive psychiatrist
always flicking the corners of his mouth with his salmon-flame tongue
a cat king presiding over a huge peasantry of Pez dispensers,
the crazy eyes of the universe watching you from their plastic faces
while you sit in the semi-comfy client chair,
make mild confessions about suicidal feelings
Now the redhead’s waiting in the aisle facing you, staring at your shirt,
Allen Ginsberg disheveled over a manual typewriter
contemplating the best minds of his generation.
She’s trying to take a reading from either his face or your face trying
to plow through all your public transportation defenses
gain entry into your head, maybe imagining you’re some sort of messed up poet too,
so she starts in on your shirt talking about how she admires your courage,
that the plight of the mentally ill needs to be brought into the light and shaken for all to see.
The two responses you feel able to give are either a hostile silence
or a simple thank you that you hope might end the conversation but no,
it only segues into a different twist in the topography of her consciousness,
one in which she at one point had two children,
but now she only has one child, one has died
and she only ever had one picture of the two of them together and that
printed on a t-shirt that her mother hated and burned.
There is your burden. You know this thing now, a strange loop
has drawn closed to corral you both in a mortal intimacy.
Outside on the sidewalk she’s a step behind your shoulder and letting you know
she slammed her mother’s head against the wall for burning that shirt
and she’s on probation now and that’s the last you hear from her.
Even before you cross the street she’s gone. She will never be a phantom
or a figment, more like a stain, a pattern of drips on the wall above your bed
you can make into many things but will never resolve to a single meaning.