How I Get Home

When I get home, when I get home,

My sorrow will be over when I get home.

It takes a while to pack up:

disks, books, papers, spare pen.

I zip up the black backpack

and go to the Start menu to Shut Down.

Any small lights that are left

I put out.

I look around the shelves: any

books I might need before tomorrow morning?

I heave the pack onto my shoulders,

turn the chair in, flick off the light,

look out the east window at the far dark mountains one more time,

pull the door to so it locks.

Doorway around the corner is open: I wave to Kristine,

bespectacled young woman with straight sandy hair falling

down over her face and eyes; it took her months to smile through it.

The hallway is empty.

I push the door out into it,

glance at the corkboard display I made all by myself,

Mediterranean blue background, pictures,

sketches.  Pictures are slipping, wandering, disappearing.

I turn left then, and move down the fourth floor hallway,

the composite floor sometimes squeaking against my sneakers.

I walk toward the light from the window at the end of the hall.

Turn right, push open the door to the stairs.

Down the empty and harshly but dimly lit stairwell,

stopping on the second landing to read

Philosophy Club and fraternity

notices posted with scotch tape on the rough-painted cinderblock walls.

It is cool and the dim stairwell smells like dark water.

I finish the steps down, counting and balancing, feeling my feet roll.

I push through the glass door into warm damp evening mist.

I shall lay my burdens down when I get home

A large tree stands before me in the small quad.

There is grass, and a bench, a walkway.

I turn right, and see bushes next to the building.  Birds cry and harmonize.

I walk the concrete

to the bike rack.  Unlock, pack goes into the fragile crate,

I gently back the bike from beside the rack standing on brick

onto the sidewalk and swing my right leg over the frame.

My ride home begins wobbly, cracks in sidewalk, then smoothes.

My legs and arms stretch push power finesse.  Head high,

I smell sun see trees green quad, riding over the brickwork

by the circle, by rugby women crouching and jumping and passing off,

into the straight stretch to the student center.

Frisbee players on my left show off and smile, I smile back.

I close my eyes briefly, to feel the breeze and sun.

Push on past the student center, clumps of students around stone tables.

A couple ahead holding hands, I slow, move to the left, excuse me, swish by.

Go wrong way round at the big circle in front of the library,

over the cement block stretch in front of the library, under the overhang,

cool shade for one moment, then back into the warm.

Push hard up the little hill path

onto the slippery brick walkway

out and down to the gate.

Faster, faster, faster,

by the new glass library,

push down and around picking up speed

to where the longest traffic light in the world

says stop.  Brake early, feet out.  Stop strong.  Tiptoes.

Watch, wait.  Feel the concrete.  Cars across the street

are waiting too.  We want to move.

We nod at each other and wait our turn.

Spar the robes of glory, I shall sing a story

Of the Lord who brought me when I get home

Fourth Avenue is bony with almost no feathers,

but slim single trees stand alert, ushering you on.

Kids’ art store on right,

student apartments on left,

tattoo parlors, stained-glass maker’s, head shops.

Birds burst upward to perch in a peach tree.

Parking lot.  Cement.

I nod and wave toward International Café’s green awning

in case Husna should happen to look out before closing.

Brick roads shoot off to the side.

I coast past the bus station with its flag and tired people.

A little strip on the right, used records, grocery store, Chinese restaurant.

Downtown area, couples and kids out for the evening get out of parked cars,

heading for a movie at the Keith Albee.

“Hey, nice bike!”  Ha! Thanks!  That wasn’t a put-down.

After the light at 11th where the glass and steel Byrd building juts up,

it’s a race to get to 10th before the light changes.

I speed up and pull out quick to make my left,

fly around a three-quarter circle and

start uphill.

On the right is a once ritzy hotel, then

the Herald-Dispatch building, where employees

stand outside smoking on their break.

On the left a bar, a jewelry shop, an alley.

Push hard and catch the green at the top of the hill as it’s turning yellow.

Shoot for the church ahead.

One block ahead The Java Joint peeps out of a brownstone,

steep city neighborhood stairs sprinkled

with a few hippy kids.  Neon sign, and a little

moving light-bulbed sign: “Try our cappuccino.”

Owner Jason waves, grins, adjusts his nose ring.

A woman pushes a stroller, pauses to laugh and shout up.

I pass Dottie’s 24 Hour Diner, closed and for sale or rent,

bright with painted sign flowers

and a painted cup of steaming coffee

still hanging above the wall of windows.

The Police Station and Court:  women waiting their turn

at trial face off across the street

with a tall woman shepherding kids,

smoking and talking with other women shepherding kids,

the City Mission.  I look over, but no one looks back

because they have other things to think about.

Then the race

to the stoplight

before the traintrack underpass.

I shall have a crown to wear when I get home

The mural on both sides of the 10th Street underpass

is cool blue and green ships and breathtaking flowers.

In order to make it through the underpass, you wait, move into the middle

of 7th Avenue, veer left, move to the edge of the slope, perching, then

swoop down into the tunnel, holding your ground against the cars.

I fly down into the cave-dark

my hair feels strong wind and my t-shirt flattens against my chest

my ears are full and caressed

going so fast down this hill

legs extended, coasting, wind whips my thighs and ankles

I stand up to feel it all

diving into a salt water wave

eyes open to the cold

then pushing out of the wave, reborn,

climbing, climbing

extend my leg muscles and pull hard

with my arms, I feel strong and stronger

feel like singing

my way out over the line of the shade wave

into the brightness

smell of pine trees on the train station grounds

pull harder with my arms, pull myself into the air

power over the top at 8th Avenue

where all the cars wait and wonder.

A video store, a dollar store where a man gets

out of his car followed by two dubious children,

bar, tattoo parlor, vitamin and incense store with sandwich-board ad,

and the gas station where you can get some coffee-maker coffee

for only 50 cents

from the attendant, thank you, how you doin this mornin.

9th Avenue is newly Carter G. Woodson Avenue:

I see for a moment before my eyes

the City Council meeting where that was decided, and

riding to the dentist one Tuesday at 10am, sure enough

I saw careful city workers changing the signs.

Crossing:  more trees, fewer people

except at Gino’s, where a man changes the lettered sign

every night at 11pm:  homemade gelato, wine, Tuesdays two for one, pizzariffic.

Opera is blasting from the radio in the warehouse,

the one with the marvelous Italian fruit rainbow mural.

Pull out to avoid parked cars,

and the old stone synagogue raises its beautiful jeweled neck,

white steps, well-manicured holocaust memorial,

groundskeeper who smiles in the sun.

I break out

to Grace Apartments,

turn right onto the sidewalk in a showoff arc,

can’t see the sidewalk till late because of

the six-foot bright red canalilies Kathy our Super planted—

and Mexican sunflowers, and Love-Lies-Bleeding

(I had to plant them because of the name, she explained,

and don’t they just look it?).

Watch a ladybug

climb all the way up and in.

Walk bike and full crate over the sidewalk

and haul it up the first set of steps.

Wheel to the left and around, over

great round brick stepping stones

through shrubs and drooping bulb-flowers

and past grass in shade

of the leafy left magnolia,

past the Marsha Garden with its hand-lettered

sign protected from the weather by gladwrap,

back over the moss and damp earth

between the two buildings so close,

and the wind chimes above, there’s a breeze.

Pull up into the cool inner painted-cement

porch where sheets are hanging to dry.

Lock up.  Plod slowly with my pack

back through the bushes,

over the clean stepping stones,

seven steps up to the porch.

I pause and look back, and see

sweet strong mountains to the south.

Tomorrow morning I’ll walk to post a letter

and take the long way round, I think,

through the misted park.

I climb the two flights,

turn the key in the lock.

[Huntington, WV; 2005]