Lost: On the Staten Island Ferry

Nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize

There, on an old worn seat, clean and cold,
I left it behind on the Staten Island Ferry—
after a walk on Wall Street,
a Saturday with darkness falling at four o’clock,
a wind chill of zero degrees,
a polar contrast to the heat, mosquitoes, and fear
I had known only days before.
The cold, cold wind I remember,
but I can’t remember
what she said,
staring past me
at dusk settling over the water
or perhaps at her reflection in the window.
She wore a bright red coat with gray fur at her neck
and at her throat;
I wore padded gabardine,
smooth and faded with age and use.
Did she wear a scarf, a hat? Did I?

It ended there, on the ferry sliding
through the black water of the harbor.
I can’t remember what she said.
But what she said was true,
truer than most words between lovers;
honest, confessional, expiatory,
perhaps even pleading.
What she wanted, I do not know—
to clear something away like the banked snow,
icy and dirty on Broadway.

To this city I was a stranger, an explorer,
on the Staten Island Ferry,
going nowhere and back.
Whatever it was she said,
I looked out the window
at the dusk turning night over the black water,
the lights, the statue and the lights not sparkling
but dully glowing in the dusk.
I can’t remember what she said.

The ferry entered the slip,
and we exited through the gate
(the only passengers coming back to the city,
maybe a worker or two,
the only fools wandering
through ice-cold canyons at Saturday dusk
because I wanted to ride the Staten Island Ferry,
no other goal than to ride the ferry,
a frigid hour before sunset,
under a sunless milk sky
that turned to soot
then faded to black)
and I ate the apple that she gave me.

Who knew the City could be so empty,
so solitary.
Sitting there on the ancient wooden benches,
worn, scarred,
new, newer now,
not seeing the statue or the skyline as she spoke,
only hearing her tell me
and feeling the frisson of despair
that wouldn’t go away.
Only gray skies and no sunset to watch,
and the black night when we walked the icy streets
to the subway,
Battery Park or somewhere near.
I was a stranger, I didn’t know my way;
and what she said changed everything,
the wages of blunt honesty,
two strangers on the Staten Island Ferry
going their separate ways.