I would not have noticed her had the subway car not cleared
of people at Lexington Avenue.
She removed a tattered stocking cap and stuffed it
into a grimy army jacket.
She held a smudged white bag between her legs.
She reached into it and pulled out half a doughnut.
That was when I noticed her shoes.
The uppers had split from the soles; she wrapped
her feet in newspaper and rags.
I thought, Mother, you need shoes.
I wondered if forty dollars would do.
I looked up and watched her untangle a lock of
matted grey hair.
She reached into her bag and found a bobby pin.
She styled the lock of hair into a bun
I had forty dollars.
It was for vitamins; specifically, anti-oxidants.
My body was rusting faster than a wet Ford.
The crows feet around my eyes whispered: erase us; your
happiness demands our absence.
I examined the old woman’s cracked and broken shoes;
they were useless for January in New York.
She closed her eyes, as if ready to savor a long warm ride.
Maybe she lives in the subway, I thought, like those people
in the documentary, Dark Days.
If she never leaves the subway she doesn’t need new shoes!
My crow’s-feet said, ’Yes!’
But that can’t be right, I thought; an old woman, alone, with
nothing but a stale doughnut for dinner.
I saw myself stand, and watched as I took two twenties out
of my wallet.
Then I knelt and said, “Mother, you need shoes.”
She opened her eyes and smiled at me and
nodded in agreement.
“Will forty dollars do?”
“Yes,” she said, “God bless you.”
I gave her the money and returned to my seat, and
listened as my crow’s-feet maliciously threatened
to deepen and spread.
Rob Goldstein (c) 2014-2018 All Rights Reserved
First published 5/29/16