He looked old and tired
and crunchy, the color of a tobacco leaf,
or a withered date.
He might have come from the garbage room
or the water closet, or the makeshift library
across the hall. Perhaps he’d been
munching on The Painted Bird,
or Destry Rides Again.
I hear they like paper and water
almost as much as trash.
He stood beside me
at the elevator, stone still, they way they do
when they think they’re hidden.
He had to know I was there.
How many times had I sprinkled boric acid
along my door frame? How many of his brethren
had I crushed under my boot?
Maybe he’d just had enough
of running, enough of dodging brooms
and books. What harm could it do, this once,
to let him go? The elevator
in the Times Square Hotel is painfully slow,
the occupants, mostly down-and-outers,
like us, waiting side by side,
natural enemies, ignoring each other.
When the doors opened, we crossed
the threshold together. I pressed Lobby, as he
disappeared through a crack in the tiles.
Frances Richey is the author of three poetry collections; The Warrior, published by Viking Penguin in 2008, The Burning Point, which won the White Pine Press Poetry Prize in 2003,
and Voices of the Guard, a chapbook of prose poems drawn from interviews with Oregon National Guard service members. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine; Nicholas Kristof’s column, The Poets of War; O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, Newsweek, Gulf Coast, River Styx, and Notre Dame Review, among others. Frances is a Wertheim Study Scholar at the New York Public Library, has received Fellowships from The Corporation of Yaddo, Blue Mountain Center, VCCA, and Hedgebrook. She was named the MacDowell Barbara and Andrew Senchak Fellow for 2015-2016. Frances teaches an on-going poetry writing class at Himan Brown Senior Center at the 92nd Street Y.