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When I board the Manhattan-bound A train
in Brooklyn, it is already crowded
with commuters on their way home, faces
bearing traces of the day—the downward
lines of weariness, mostly, the sour pinch
of frustration, sometimes the surprise
of a smile or the clear signs of content:
cheeks at peace, eyes that gaze with interest
rather than challenge or alarm—the look,
one might say, of love.

When we get above Columbus
Circle the crowd has thinned enough
for me to see an old black cane hung
neatly on a partition near the door,
swinging gently with the motion of the train.

I try to identify the owner
and finally realize that the owner
has disembarked. I think of chapels
in medieval times, where saints’ relics
were interred—sometimes just a finger bone
or piece of cloth. Petitioners ailing
or crippled in all sorts of ways traveled
long distances in pain and arrived
praying for a miracle: Hear me. Heal
me. And once in a great while such a thing
occurred—crutches flung away, spasms eased,
flesh-eating disease halted, lunatics soothed.

Having glimpsed neither the saint nor the subject,
or not recognized them as such, I am left

with the cane as evidence that
on the A train, between Brooklyn
and Fifty-ninth Street, at the height of rush
hour, someone’s belief prevailed.

The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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