Aboard the train, the usual thing:
a conversation overheard,
then eavesdropped on: two friends
discussing an absent third,

their heads ashake with sympathy,
in shared concern their voices hushed;
so that I caught, for all my strain,
no more than snatches as we rushed

downtown. At first one word, “ … divorce … ,”
its steely second syllable
landing like a guillotine,
alone cut through the shrill

disharmony of track and wheel;
but then during a smoother stretch
whole phrases reached my ear:
it seems he’d chanced upon—poor wretch!—

“ … his wife in bed with someone else … ”
and that “ … his daughter has Tourette’s… . ”
And there I was, attending to
the woes of a man I’d never met,

whose very name I failed to learn;
yet all the while half-thinking of
my eight-months-pregnant wife, and how
the vulnerabilities of love

would soon, for me, be doubled;
and wondering whether I,
when sorrows come (as Claudius says)
no longer single spies

but in ruinous battalions,
can possibly withstand their force;
and whether anyone, in fact,
dare doubt that in due course

they’ll be the sad case talked about,
their life careering off the rails:
the one regarding whom such friends
as these, in view of his travails,

will some day ask quite hopelessly
—this last bit gleaned before we all
stand up, get off, disperse—
“ … Who can catch him if he falls? … .”

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 22 Number 8, on page 56
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