– Reverse commuter

Do you know the work of the contemporary poet Deborah Garrison?

This one, in particular, is something I read out loud to myself every year, in the fall around this time.

I Saw You Walking

I saw you walking through Newark Penn Station
in your shoes of white ash. At the corner
of my nervous glance your dazed passage
first forced me away, tracing the crescent
berth you’d give a drunk, a lurcher, nuzzling
all comers with ill will and his stench, but
not this one, not today: one shirt arm’s sheared
clean from the shoulder, the whole bare limb
wet with muscle and shining dimly pink,
the other full-sheathed in cotton, Brooks Bros.
type, the cuff yet buttoned at the wrist, a
parody of careful dress, preparedness—
so you had not rolled up your sleeves yet this
morning when your suit jacket (here are
the pants, dark gray, with subtle stripe, as worn
by men like you on ordinary days)
and briefcase (you’ve none, reverse commuter
come from the pit with nothing to carry
but your life) were torn from you, as your life
was not. Your face itself seemed to be walking,
leading your body north, though the age
of the face, blank and ashen, passing forth
and away from me, was unclear, the sandy
crown of hair powdered white like your feet, but
underneath not yet gray—forty-seven?
forty-eight? the age of someone’s father—
and I trembled for your luck, for your broad,
dusted back, half shirted, walking away;
I should have dropped to my knees to thank God
you were alive, o my God, in whom I don’t believe.

—Deborah Garrison

From the New Yorker issue of October 22, 2001.

5 thoughts on “– Reverse commuter

  1. I wonder if this poem was part of Don DeLillo’s inspiration for his 9/11 novel _Falling Man_? The imagery is very similar–as is the age of the man, the motif of the lost briefcase, etc. Frankly, I didn’t care for the book–but I love the poem.

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