May 28, 2023

Dear Beth

Do you remember that old guy,
who kept his television going all day in that
noisy building where we lived in
Philadelphia for a few months, years ago?
We had just arrived in town, the paper
was putting us up while we looked
for a place. His game shows murmured through the
walls so clear we answered
the questions as we ate. A round
of applause for the housewife, who had just won an
Oldsmobile, cheers
for the soap opera star stopping by
to show Oprah the new baby.
The President’s cousin dropped in and
the bowling team that won the lottery.

After a few hours of the same channel,
we’d begin to think our neighbor could be dead,
that maybe a heart attack had taken him
or he’d been electrocuted by his toaster,
then we’d hear a faucet running, a yawn, a spoon
ringing, something like a song. A retired clerk
of something, I guess,
a math teacher, accountant, or dentist.

We never knew his name, but didn’t he
always wear a yellow bow tie, looking half
dressed up and for what
we asked in a kind of wonder then.

Who was he? We often passed him, remember,
as he pulled a creaky shopping cart down the hall,
nodding a half smile as he opened his door
and disappeared in the rising sound of applause.