Prague Metro Time Table

Drunk expat walks off
the metro platform.
At last relaxed, he falls
awakened only by the loss
of ground to sleep walk on.

Dazed, strangers are yelling,
gesturing wildly,
pulling him up to safety
and more gestures
pointing to the escalator exit up.

While ascending to Charles Square
towards daylight,
the Saturday morning metro arrives.
I wander towards Angel district
and its three story mall,
the free bathroom on the second floor,
to wash the rail grease from my face,
and look dismally at the rips
in my Offspring t-shirt.

That day I realized
When I die, it will be some way
similar, just as stupid
and preventable
(a public inconvenience maybe).
Last time I was early, but next time
I will not be late.

The newspaper would read,
“John White, an American in Prague, died last night
in Peace Square underground metro station.
He was catching the metro home.
It hit him in the face.”

When Vivienne Arrived Early

The first time I cried for you was five minutes after you were born.  Your mum had come into the clinic that afternoon for a routine check-up two weeks before you were due. Her doctor was concerned she had preeclampsia so she sent her to the labor and delivery wing for tests. A few hours later, they decided to perform an emergency C-section.  They gave your mum medication and put her on a table with a big blue sheet with a plastic window between the surgery and her.  She was dreamy and she looked beautiful. There were all sorts of commotion in the room, and at 11pm on the dot your wailing added to the mix.  They thrust you up to the window for a few seconds and you were a gooey hysterical mess. Immediately afterwards, you and I went to a table where they took your vitals to medically confirm what everyone already knew, that you were alive. They gave me scissors to cut your umbilical cord and then they wiped the womb’s residue from your body and gave you a tiny knit hat. As they prepared for your first official photo, I stood back and looked at your distraught screaming frown, your open reaching arms, and bowl shaped legs sticking wide up in the air. You were pitiful, helpless, and vulnerable, and I knew I was responsible to keep you safe. Your and my feelings surfaced together, and I choked with empathy.

The next afternoon I drove back home to check on our cat Lola and grab our bag of hospital essentials for you, your mum, and me. While I was out, I was also supposed to pick up chicken soup for your mum.  On the return drive, the radio played the theme from the film Mr. Holland’s Opus.  They introduced the theme by explaining how the character Mr. Holland had always wanted to become a great composer but instead spent his life as a high school music teacher.  On the evening he retired, his family and former students threw him a surprise party in the school’s auditorium. The guest speaker referenced John Lennon’s quote on when his child was born, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” Then, to Mr. Holland’s immense surprise, they began playing his opus he’d privately been working on throughout his career.

When I was in seventh grade orchestra class, we played a simplified version of that song. At the time, I was unimpressed.  It was slow to start, slow throughout, and climaxed with a mild symphonic flair before it ended.  This time, it was different.  The sound was slow, but it was subtle, serene, and brimming with anticipation. During the ever so slow build up, I thought about that Lennon quote and thought self pityingly about my unsuccessful and desperate attempts to continue my academic studies. Instead I’m barely getting by with a low income but financially stable warehouse job. I thought about what I really want to do with myself and with my writing. Then I thought about the previous night and how your mum successfully gave birth to you, Vivienne Ruth White. After, we had returned to the hospital room with bedside couch. While your mum rested in exhaustion, I lay down under a blanket and held you against my chest for an hour and half. You and I both dosing but waking up to look at each other again. Your mum and I took care of each other and would do anything to take care of you. I thought all this while I drove and the song’s subtle build up played on. Then, when the listener stops expecting any change at all, the entire symphony comes together in a triumphant release that seems to surprise even the composer himself. My chest started heaving in waves with the music and I let myself go. The opus and I were one. For the second time in twenty-four hours, I cried.