October, 1999

Poetry

Address Unknown

Address Unknown Illustration


I
Taken this subway line since I was a boy.
Mom would take me to school.
She said, even then:
“The subway is not the same anymore.”
She told me when she was a little girl her parents put her on the line in Brooklyn.
Her grandfather met her at the station in Manhattan.
No more.

There was one man I remember.
Must have been on the same schedule.
He was always on the train, in the morning, when we got on.
I remember him as being very old.  But now, I think, he must have been rather young, at first.

Winter, he always wore a hat with a small green feather sticking up from the band.
A long dark wool coat.
Grey scarf.
He wouldn’t have stood out except he must have gotten on the line early.
He always had a seat when we got on.
At our stop, it began to get crowded.
Seats scarce.
The man would always get up, point to his seat with his hat, and say: “Ma’am, please.”

And Mom would tell me to sit down.
Usually, she squeezed in next to me.

I once asked,
“Why does that man give us his seat every day?”
Mom told me: “There used to be a lot of men like him.
He is a gentleman.”
Is that a good thing to be?
I asked.
“A very good thing to be.”
So I told my Mom that
I would be a gentleman too.

And so, at the very next stop when the crowd got on,
I leapt from my seat, pulled off my cap, and motioned to a lady who had just gotten on while saying: “Ma’am, please.”

The lady and my mother started laughing and I said:
“What did I do wrong?
I want to be a gentleman too.”

Mom told me that one day
I would be a fine gentleman.
But for now I had to be a good boy and sit next to Mommy.
She said “I’m very proud of you.”
I took that line all through school.

II
Soon, of course, I made the trip myself.
I met the guys at the stop near my house.
We picked up more fellows as we moved closer to school.
We didn’t think of it as “public transportation.”
It was ours. We ruled our car.
Loud.
Profane.
It wasn’t so much that we were cruel – oblivious.
Sprawled across seats.
Daring anyone to trespass.

One day, a woman, Puerto Rican, I think, pregnant, holding a daughter by the hand.
Came on and there were no seats.
The little girl put her finger in her mouth and twirled it around.
The mother held onto the unborn child with one hand, to the daughter with the other, and seemed to lean against a pole.
Looked very tired.

I got up and said:
“Why don’t you sit down?”
She was grateful and did.
The rest of the guys went nuts.
“Ooh, trying to get wild with a little pregnant girl.”
“That your baby she’s carrying boy?”
For weeks afterward it was:
“Hey, ain’t you getting up for me?”
I confess that, though I saw some opportunities where I thought about getting up,
I didn’t get up anymore for a long while.

III
I was downtown once picking up my son from nursery school.
A surprise.
Gave Mom a day off.
“Daddy, Daddy, can we take the train?”
Mom only would take buses.
Says the subways are not safe.

We were sitting on the Express.
It was getting crowded, but we had seats.
A man got on.
I knew the dark wool coat, the long grey scarf, the hat with the small green feather – and the face – though the can was new.
He didn’t shave every day as he once did.

“Please sir, sit down here next to my son,”
I said as I got up.
He shuffled over, sat down.

“Thank you, son, you’re from the old school.” He told me.
I said I had some good teachers.

I held onto a pole and my son’s hand the rest of the trip.
Nodded farewell to the gentleman as we left the train.
On the way home, my son asked why had I given my seat to the man.

I told him” “Because that is what a gentleman does.”
“Am I a gentleman too?” asked my son.
“If you want to be one, you can,” I explained.
“It is a very fine thing to be.”

IV
Tomorrow my son will be married.
A kind girl.
I asked her, just yesterday, when it was that she really knew she loved my boy.

They were riding the subway once and they were cuddling.
Very much in love.
An old man got on, he wore a dark wool coat, a long grey scarf, a hat with a small green feather popping up from the band, and used walker.
His beard was a few days old.

My son, so I am told, looked at the man a moment, then suddenly, left his girlfriend’s embrace, leapt to his feet and said: “Please sir, sit down, here, next to my sweetheart.”

She figured that, my son, must have a good heart to treat an old man so very well.

V
This morning I got up extra early, to head for the subway.
“Sweetheart,” I whispered softly as I woke my wife.
“I need an extra wedding invitation.”

I told her we had forgotten to invite someone.
“Who?” she asked.
I don’t know his name.
“Where does he live?” she asked.
I don’t know his address.
“So why should we invite him?”
There wouldn’t be a wedding without him.

by Jim Prevor