Crags in her face run deep,
etched by decades of paying rent bills,
a daughter in trouble,
a succession of hard men.
To white eyes, black skin ages quickly,
old before her time.
We know her.
A phone operator for the Hotel Nikko.
Her day begins at 7:33 when she climbs aboard the downtown express,
#2 out of Hyde Park.
Then the redhead gets on.
Every day she ignores the empty seats in the mixed front,
Choosing the solidly black,
5-seats-joined back of the bus.
Beneath young ivory skin lies the gray sheen of exhaustion.
The neighborhood says she’s just out of college, works two jobs,
lives with her boyfriend, doesn’t get enough sleep.
And five minutes out of Hyde Park, her head is sagging,
Listing right to rest against the old woman’s brown-cottoned shoulder.
A thick red braid fallen warm against gaunt bones, shrivelled breast.
They sit silently.
Never a word between them,
yet every morning this ritual,
At State and Madison, a gentle touch of brown hand.
And the redhead wakes up, shifts with a grateful smile,
then gathers her corporate briefcase
and the leather bag for high heels.
Off at Randolph.
She will never buy the old woman lunch downtown.
They will never exchange Christmas presents.
But one day, perhaps they will meet in the park on 53rd,
trade names and stories, of men they have met
and children they have known.
Or perhaps not.
November 30, 1992