Strangers I trust: A poem

Photo of East Asian Library
Nick Quinlan/Staff

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I.

 

The clock strikes 2 p.m.

And the oat milk latte that I inhaled just an hour ago

Sends caffeine coursing through my veins.

 

All is quiet except the tip-taps of fingers on a keyboard next to me.

This sunny library spot is swimming in outlets,

And I’m floating on the steroidal satisfaction of stable Wi-Fi.

 

But nature calls

Tearing me from my perch

And without me knowing so much as

Their name

Their hometown

Or their favorite color

Their tip-taps take pause to hear my request for a favor.

 

In mere moments, 

All of my most prized possessions 

Are under a stranger’s surveillance.

Only the route to the restroom occupies my thoughts while I’m away.

 

Upon my return, I nod to the caretaker of my belongings

Now to me not a nobody, but not somebody either.

 

Gratitude:

A smudged pair of spectacles,

Which mellow the sharpness of focus,

So you close your eyes

Reach out

And feel the warmth of kindness 

Transcendent, beyond people. 

 

II.

 

I sit across Girl-by-Durant on a bench (by Durant)

“Are you busy or do you have a minute?” she asks.

Is this an attempt to convert me to a religious cult? A competitive club?

Either is fair game —

But I’m always game for roulette. 

 

“Sure,” I say.

 

As Girl-by-Durant sits beside me,

I see that it’s neither.

In need of honest advice,

She reads aloud a response she’s written for class

Her commentary on mothers and children

Woven and looped around stories of 

Her mother and her mother’s child

Accounts that glide on the spring breeze

Into my ears — proxies 

For those of an old friend

Though maybe in another life those ears and mine

Were one and the same.

 

III. 

 

Grab your ID, the bus is here!

Oh wow 

It’s still moving so fast —

Tires kick up the dirt,

Smacking our cheeks

Remorseless and taunting.

We respond with two spiteful thumbs up

As we walk backward along the side of the road.

Dozens of cars dash by,

But one valiant Subaru stops.

 

It pulls off to greet us, car doors unlocked,

Its driver a smiley senior citizen. 

She listens to our hasty answers 

To questions she never asked.

 

When we’re finished blabbering 

She says,

“I’m sorry about that. … Where are you going?” 

 

Carried like pollen on a wool coat

Serendipity deposits us at our destination.

 

We try to catch one last glimpse of this generous Jane Doe

But she vanishes into the hillside —

Only the sweeping clouds above

Know her whereabouts now.

I look up hoping to catch the shimmer of a shiny sedan

In a dewy, cotton reflection

But all I can make out is sunshine and blue.

 

IV.

 

Anonymity wears many masks:

The faceless poster child of cautionary tales,

A weapon that conceals more than it unveils.

 

But a mask has edges

And contours 

That mimic the shape of the one who wears it

Vague imprints that reveal 

In little portions

A humanity we share.

 

I am the strangers I trust.

I know them as I know bits and fragments

Of myself

More intimately than

the internet connection I chase

a cold stone seat on campus

a bus full of empty promises.

 

Every instant of shared humanity tangentially

Touches the timeline of my life but at one point alone,

And I notice that my universe has — even if just by an inch — grown,

Dissolving the rigid barriers that are all we’ve ever known.

Contact Sonoma Carlos at [email protected].