In the subway car
we are looking glum.
Most of us stare into fluorescent space.
Others pass the time in the New York Times,
or the Daily News, or a paperback.
As I sit paralyzed
by bulky clothes and inertia,
my attention is caught
by the slightly more than middle aged
black woman on my right.
Glasses perched low on her nose,
she reaches into her plastic tote.
Pulls out a bobbin of thread
and yes, a needle.
Is she really going to try to thread it?
Now I understand, although I am skeptical.
She is going to repair her umbrella.
A sad, tired, worn old thing,
its fabric has long since parted from its spokes,
whipped about by the wily winds
of city intersections.
By the time we reach Times Square,
she has threaded the needle.
By 23rd Street,
she has reattached fabric to one of the spokes,
is breaking off thread and
preparing to move on to the next.
Before I can censure myself,
I tap her arm and tell her how much
I admire her endeavor.
I’ve often thought of doing that, I confess,
but have never actually done it.
We spend the rest of the ride
making small talk about umbrellas —
lost, found and broken ones —
and the sweet satisfaction of making repairs.
We laugh about the odds of her finishing the job
before she reaches her destination.
For this ride at least,
the subway is less cold, less dank,
less menacing.
In fact, after I bid her goodbye,
for the rest of the day
the city seems gentler.


©Ellen Azorin