“The Number One”

Poem by Rob O’Donnell


A mother wipes her baby’s mouth with a dingy cotton sleeve;

The tell-tale pucker of the ones with no teeth:

A hooded, bespectacled beard

Tells everyone his nine year old grandson,

Whom he never sees, has begun

To think for himself.

 

It is the day of baggage carts:

A red one is filled with tied plastic bags,

Their unknown contents’ papery rustle

Punctuating the starts and stops.

And strollers:

In an umbrella on four wheels,

The wet-mouthed child bays for its milk.

Another one’s mother in a stained hoodie,

Spider leg eyelashes and pickled eyes,

Shoves crackers and juice at a blonde mass squirming,

Unable to be still.

 

Maple dreadlocks and Beats and camo pants sketching

Art school dreams on yellow lined paper,

Charcoal staining his fingers.

 

Ka-ching whirrrrr! Ka-ching whirrrr! The fare

Is two dollars, but

What if she doesn’t have enough?

Can I borrow a quarter? Who’s got

My dollar?

Later, in the back, a face tattoo

Says, “I’ll give you a buck to use your phone.”

 

Not this time.

 

Out the windows its halal meat

And African hair, plantains and potatoes and

Hunt Brothers Pizza.

 

Next Stop: Cleveland and Northern Plaza. Stop Requested.

The bags in their cart, the kid in her stroller and the humans stream

Out the back door as

The toothless beard in glasses gives

Tropical colored suckers to the little blonde girl.

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