“Standing and Waiting: A Triptych” by Joel Deutsch


a block away, the light turns green
and the bus starts forward again,
head sign scrolling route number, name and destination

over and over
like a TV news crawl
with nothing else left to report.

It’s hot, very hot. 85, says a digital thermometer atop a bank.
The afternoon traffic crawls over scorching asphalt
Most windows rolled up tight to hold in the A/C,
the occasional open one blaring some kind of music.

Beside him at the bus stop are Two small, dark-haired women,
identical twins in matching Disneyland T-shirts
that hang untucked over thickening midriffs and the tops of stretch fabric jeans,
one clutching the handles of a supermarket bag
Crammed with rags, sponges and trigger-spray housecleaner, the other
Holding up a yellow umbrella, wide open,
under the bright, cloudless sky.

The twin with the bag smiles  and he smiles back,
Glancing sidelong at the other one, crunching his face to ask, wordlessly,
why the umbrella?

Her eyes follow his to the object in question
and back again.

“My sister,” she says with a Spanish accent, a look of resignation
and a small shrug, as if that
explains everything.

Suddenly, there’s a din, the clatter of small hard wheels
and sidewalk cracks. It’s a girl, 18 at the most
Tanned, supple, hair tied back,
clad in a cherry-red tank top, Baggy blue shorts and scuffed white sneakers
Like a skateboarding American flag
She flashes by with careless, ordinary grace, Thin wires trailing from both ears
to some propulsive pop tune in her pocket
and then is gone.

Across the street, a dreadlocked black man in a big straw hat
is arguing about something with a little white lady
whose gray head would scarcely reach his chest
if they were close enough,
but they’re facing each other
from behind nose-to-nose shopping carts,
his covered with cardboard, hers draped in green plastic garbage bags
and then the bus, arriving, blocks them from his view.

The sister thumbs a button, collapsing her umbrella onto its stem
like a wilted sunflower.
He waves the women ahead, hangs back,
looks at  the poster on the side of the bus
and there’s the Mayor, in shirtsleeves, cuffs rolled back and necktie pulled loose, brandishing the levered nozzle of a green garden hose
that’s still dripping, as if he’s just now stopped the flow.

Let’s Save Water! it says in big letters
above the Mayor’s head.

The women are aboard now, starting down the aisle. He ascends
into air conditioning,
digging into his pocket for the fare.

It’s hot. Very hot. Vehicular Fragments–dark and light sheet metal, glimmers of chrome, glints of sun struck glass– ratchet across his patchwork view like film frames sputtering through the sprockets of a poorly-threaded projector.
Now and again some kind of music blares,
then dies out.

There are two other people there with him. Short adult shadows, female.
Above one of their heads, something yellow hovers.
An umbrella? , he holds out an upturned palm,just to be sure. No, of course
It’s not raining.

Suddenly, there’s a din, the clatter of small hard wheels
and sidewalk cracks. A youthful figure shoots by,
Bare skin, muscle, flashes of red white and blue,

The bus, an enormous shadow bodying forth out of nowhere, pulls up.
He hears a click, and what he’s sure now is an umbrella
comes down, disappears.

Pasele,” says one of the women, with a flicker of deferential arm motion. “You go ahead.”

“Thanks,” he says. “Gracias.” He makes out the doorway
and ascends into air conditioning,
digging into his pocket for the fare.


It’s hot. Very hot. He hears a stop and go stream of traffic sounds and an occasional burst of music.

Then suddenly, there’s a din, the clatter
of a  skateboard, if he guesses right,
Coming, going, gone,
its sound sponged up in the general din.

The bus arrives, a bulky presence blocking the weak breeze.
there’s a mechanical click very close beside him.

Pasele.” You go ahead,” says someone. Female, Latina by the accent, much shorter than him, judging by where the voice is coming from.

“Thanks,” he says, moving forward, sweeping his white cane in short purposeful arcs until its tip touches the curb. “Step up,” calls the driver, and he ascends
into air conditioning,
digging into his pocket for the fare.



Joel Deutsch. A long time ago, in a galaxy  far, far away, as the opening scrolls of ancient films  would have it, writing confessional narrative poetry seemed to him as close to unfettered space flight as he could ever wish to come. And  lo, the flat bluish Olivetti, the solid green Hermes, the upright black Remington from the Mission Street thrift store were fruitful, and the poems multiplied, and were published in many a little mag. Won him a degree, won him awards. “You’re a good poet, Joel,” Charles Bukowski rasped at him over the phone, once. “Not as good as me, but pretty damn good.”  Then he started feeling less like Hans Solo or Charlie Parker than a hungover diamond cutter with his glass loupe tightly screwed into one eye, desperately trying to chip beauty out of the already-precious stone beneath a flickering lamp, and it was then that other forms beckoned. Articles and profiles, stories and essays. Which led, eventually, inevitably, to working on the first draft of a first novel (the book of danny), a youth’s apprenticeship in a time of chronollogical seniority.  But sometimes the song says it will stick in the throat if you try to sing it any other way. At which point humbling words come to mind, most especially those of poet Charles Olsen in “Maximus, to Himself.”


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