James Wright Returns to Minneapolis

I spotted him on the corner of Lake and Cedar, the cemetery across the road streaked with snow, its gravestones surrounded by a black fence that kept anyone from seeing what was really there. James Wright was back in Minneapolis, waiting for the bus to St. Paul. I pulled over and parked my car, got out and waited for the light to turn green. He stared straight ahead and grew smaller in his coat as I approached.

We stood alone at the bus stop as I said, “James. James Wright?” He turned to me and I saw the scar at his throat, white whiskers frozen to his face, his poem about the Indian with a hook for a hand coming to me as he shook his head without a word. “James, it’s you,” I said and wanted to hug him. A bus passed, but it wasn’t the right one and he looked down at his dirty shoes like a professor caught in some act.

“James, what are you doing here?” I asked. He looked up at me and pushed his eyeglasses farther on his nose. “Do you remember when I waited for the bus and the Indian came by and dropped a coin into my paw?” I said nothing because it was that poem. James smiled to himself and shrugged. “I forgot to thank him,” he told me. “I got on the bus without saying goodbye.”

I didn’t know what to say and stood there with James Wright, his poem trying to take this encounter away. We waited for his bus in silence, but it never came. He waved off each one that passed by, acting as if I wasn’t there. “Can I give you a ride?” I finally asked. James Wright turned to me and whispered, “That’s what did it. The guy had a hook.” He held his bare, right hand up in the cold air, reached into his left coat pocket with the other hand and gave me a dollar bill. “Goodbye,” he said and I took the money as James Wright started walking toward Minneapolis, his back turned to the rows of the dead.

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