They all seem old,
with huge, bushy beards,
their soiled rags incongruous  
in the sleek, polished chairs.
 
Not allowed bundles
that won’t fit under seats,
their clothes are heavily layered,
emaciated figures made rotund
as they become by necessity
their own luggage.
 
Holding books with both hands,
they gaze fixedly or sleep,
their heads dropping slowly, slowly,
toward their laps.
 
And I think of jokes I might make
about texts held upside down
or printed in Chinese;
 
but I cannot do this:
 
Despite their dirty raiment,
with their white beards,
their Zen-like silence,
they are respectable.
 
And I think instead
of Hemingway’s old gent,
who sought “a  clean, well-lighted place.”

Reprinted with permission of "Lyric," Vol. 86

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