God’s Stenographer

God’s stenographer crests a corner seat
on the 3 train to Brooklyn.

“Loyal to None” in Old English typography
across his shirt, clear plastic glasses
balanced on the tip of his glacial nose.

His gaze exacting, shifting face to face,
seat to seat, back to the creased roll
of thermal paper winding in his hands
jabbing a nub of hot lead pinched
between thumb and forefinger
an endless screed of accusation and complaint.

Plugged in, tuning in to tune out, mothers
and their children, children without
their mothers, workers, wanderers,
plugged in, eyes on screens, captured
audience, subjects, stars, suckers.
Penitents, innocents, defendants,
prosecutorial evidence.
The mad, the paranoid, the outlaw,
the buskers rapping salvation,
rapping scars are better than bars,
rapping take a chance, take a chance, take a chance.

You hope to avoid his lancing eyes, but to no avail.
You hope to shirk responsibility, but to no avail.

We are all of humanity up in your face.
You are all of humanity up in his face.
And his face merely arches to take us all in
to mark us all down.

At Grand Army Plaza, in swings a faded black man,
drifting and ghostly, his presence doubtful
until he swings himself and his whole life
in three bags beside you. Shredded clothes,
body bent, marked, and scarred by the topography
of cracked macadam mapping the city’s boroughs
and the viscous pressures of Archimedes principle.

Out from a bag he holds a tupperware of days old rice,
fork buried like a treasure among the stinking grains.
As he eats, some falls on his lap. He picks up each piece,
drops them back into the container, shuts it, puts it back
into his bag and pulls out the crumpled front page of a paper.
He stares at the page, mutters, nods off, wakes at the shake
of the train, nods off again, muttering incomprehensibly,
shaking his head in denial of what the picture shows him.
You wonder if his words are meant for your ears, so you lean in
to listen, to hear, to receive, but he nods off,
the paper clenched in his hands, a bit of rice on his lip.

The unhappy medium in the corner records it all. He has nothing else to do.

Meanwhile, your heart. Meanwhile, your tight throat.
Meanwhile, the scream in your chest. Meanwhile, your denial.

You have nothing to give. You don’t know what to do.
What do you do? What do you do? What do you do?

You have nothing so you do nothing and nothing is done.
The train keeps rolling as if you’ve always been here.
The train keeps rocking as if this man has always meant to sit here.
The train keeps rocking and rolling because what else can it do?
You have nothing so you do nothing and nothing is done.
What can you do? What do you do? What, you? What?

Across from you, there! He sits—another man of a different type,
scrubbed clean as a hardboiled egg dipped in chemical wash,
hands caressing crisp pages as a blind man might read brail.
His canvass tote bag is wrapped about his fine ankle,
his belly under his laundered shirt well fed,
his ability to ensconce himself in himself with studied
agility exudes a careless, creaseless confidence
of knowledge that this seat he reclaims for the time
is his kingdom of one on the 3 train to Brooklyn
into which not even God’s stenographer
will penetrate with his piercing illumination.

Turn to find he is correct and is probably always so.
“Loyal to None” has disembarked.

[sc name="ad-300x600"]

The car half-emptied, moving again,
unencumbered by the weight of the Law.

But who are you? What brings you here?
Are you not one of the litigants?
Who are you to judge the worthiness of a soul?

Just one of us, too, sitting here like all of us
living outside the margins of a Hopper painting,
where lonely has a darker name.

Meanwhile, God’s stenographer makes his way up Crown Street
where a Jew he knows has a pencil he can borrow.

Meanwhile, you drop a scroll suddenly burning in your fingers.

It’s time to leave. Standing, waiting for the car to stop,
for the door to open so you can run back up to the streets,
the young man wipes the old rice from his lip and says,
“God bless you, sir. You and your family. God bless.”

Up the stairs you fly, the thick Brooklyn air sticks in your throat
as you breathe in deep at the top.

“Sir, you seem to have dropped something?”
You look back, and your mind unwinds
following the roll of receipt paper
back down into the depths.

There’s no escaping. The job is yours.
There’s a Jew on Crown Street
waiting for you with a box of hot lead.




Cover image from Vladimer Shioshvili.