While Riding to Work

by | Dec 15, 2023 | Poetry

Interior of a bus featuring the back of a passenger's head.

Weekends too, I ride the bus, sit way in back,
as far away from the crowd as can be
and watch the images of the city
on my way to the Octopus Car Wash,
where I have learned that the wealthy drivers,
high up in the mirrored glass waiting room,
like to watch us clean their mostly clean cars,
and I have learned to keep all cash I find
while vacuuming under their leather seats.

I stare out the window in a grey mind
at the homeless in their nests of wreckage,
gathered in futureless groups like cattle
under the trees and available shade,
talking to the cops who stare down at them.

So much can go wrong in a life—theirs, mine—
then, as hope-filled and sudden as poppies,
bubbles appear from the front of the bus.

The old woman with the port wine birthmark
on her face who works down at the food bank
and always sits in the handicapped seat
behind her metal cart of damaged food
(her cart as much a walker as a cart)
is filling the air with translucent spheres.

Her left hand holds the red bottle of soap
while her right dips the plastic ring and then
comes the careful kiss that blooms iridescent.
More and more bubbles appear, pearls of breath,
like a scuba diver’s oxygen trail.

It’s hard not to follow each bubble’s career
as some float in the draft around the rails,
skim the floor or fly just below the roof.
I see them hang like bright, new ideas above
the heads of Walmart clerks and road workers.

And some ride the draft up, clear back to me
where I’ve opened the windows to allow
their escape, to drift on exhaust and wind–
things of childhood, minor astonishments,
how they Christmas the customary air.

Photo by Oran Viriyincy, used and adapted under CC.

About The Author


Eliot Khalil Wilson is a two-time recipient of poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. He has two previous collections of poetry—The Saint of Letting Small Fish Go and This Island of Dogs. He lives in Denver with his family.

Books by Eliot Wilson