October 18, 2021

Talking to Strangers

I like talking to strangers when I travel
though limit my curiosity to chit-chat,
so yesterday on the plane to New York
I noticed a light-haired flight attendant
whose Irish face reminded me
of Caroline Kennedy. I asked
in a friendly way if she was leaving home
or heading home. She stammered for a moment,
frowned, trying hard to reply.
It occurred to me that Caroline K might not
be as happy as she looks in magazines either.
After we landed, I squeezed into a rush-hour
subway, everyone bulked with coats
and backpacks but a nice Caribbean woman
swiveled around so I could reach a pole
before the train jerked ahead. We stood
smiling with our eyes, the cars lumbering
until I felt a jolt and the train stopped—
tossing us together in a tunnel, lights
flickering, the motor dead. I thought
we shouldn’t be meeting like this, and said
it aloud. Stuck for twenty minutes, she had time
to tell me about her children, two grown
and gone, the youngest 13, who, she said,
is obsessed with her hair but she’ll get over it.
Yes, I agreed, just as the man behind me spoke
from a shadow, recommending the woman try
a new conditioner he’s using, prompting
another voice in the dark to tout a hair salon,
leading yet another passenger to google its address.
Free advice running rampant underground,
we’d created a community. When the train
finally reached a station, I straggled off, realizing
no one had mentioned God’s blessings,
the Creator of the Universe no doubt weary
of heavenly shampoos. All this chatter
left me wondering if Caroline K has begun
to color her hair, she’s nobody’s child any more.

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