A Random Saint Rides the Bus
by Joe Cottonwood

With a face of wretched scars like layered pond scum
in the seat beside me she says without prompting 

I teach seventh grade social studies
because I love to bend a mind like molten metal
before it cools hard. Hm. Hm-mum.

She hums one, two notes like commas
as she talks — tuning her thoughts.

My cubs, that age, the hormones hit so hard
you can hear their heartbeats.
Beat-beat, so loud.
Hm. Hm hm.
My cubs, every day they navigate among the flotsam.
Just look at this bus. What they deal with.
And you and me, right? Because
we’re all riding on this bus. Hm-mum.

My cubs don’t know their values.
They may not know their own gender.
It’s a race to develop personal integrity
before the peer group kills them. Hm.
They need somebody who will listen to their heartbeats.
Somebody must say “Yes that’s right”
or “No that’s absolutely wrong”
though mostly what I say is ‘”There’s no absolute here”
but I love those emerging souls and maybe
I help shape them in some small way. Hm. Hm.

You wonder what happened to my face?
One of my cubs threw acid.
One of my lost ones.
Hm hm hm.

A thin gold chain around her neck,
a gold cross upon her chest.

Here’s my stop she says.
Have a great day.

First published in MOON magazine.

PAINTING: “Woman with yellow hat” by Pablo Picasso (1961).

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is from my book Random Saints. The cover illustration by Sarah White was inspired by this poem. The teacher featured in this poem is the central figure on the cover.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joe Cottonwood has spent a lifetime repairing other people’s homes and is still repairing his own. He lives with his high school sweetheart in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. His latest book is Random Saints.