The car pulls out onto a dark road as the first rays of light cross the horizon,
Even in snow.
Then ensues another ride under the city with a strap to keep the commuting hordes from colliding,
An exit, not to the sleek steel towers with leather-upholstered views of the harbor,
But to a silent iron door next to a dumpster,
Neighbor to an autobody shop, a tattoo parlor, and a suspicious establishment that hosts furtive visitors early and late in the day.
The labyrinths inside the building,
Decreed by funding models penciled in years before the present staff were hired,
Confuse the visitors, who teeter between partitions.
A negation of space,
Not open, not free,
But with walls shorter than an adult, bereft of shelter.
In a corridor or an office or a discarded corner,
Old problems pour from new faces—
The son who will not stay safely in the apartment on a restless night,
The missing payment for a service rendered to a shadowy operation,
The mysterious summons in a text not recognized as language anywhere on Earth.
Perhaps the speakers heard those things from their parents,
Posed on laps in these spaces three decades before.
Some clients welcome the chance to sit for a moment,
With a ceiling between themselves and the vindictive heavens,
A wall between the North wind and their threadbareness.
Other clients have managed to find home in a tenement box,
A roof, walls, a floor—six planes to structure a whirlwind world.
But their minds do not respect walls.
Their noons do not correspond to the sun overhead,
Any more than their children’s wanderings curl up in school schedules.
What do they leave with?
A cellophaned mint in a clasped purse,
A life’s twist patiently straightened out by a gentle hand,
A needling oppression lifted for a week or a month—
Such are the trophies in care management awarded at the end of the day.
At last the rooms fall quiet
For two hours of computer work,
A rueful laugh at team meeting over the day’s behaviors,
Before the return walk to the subway.
This poem was published in the 2022 issue of Cæsura.
March 13, 2022