Ann Keiffer

Stranger on the Train


I board the commuter train in Palo Alto

heading home to San Mateo and take

a seat facing you but one seat over.

I settle my belongings, then myself, and

without intending to, begin to take you

in: your San Francisco State book bag,

your green, thermal-knit shirt, your

immaculate jeans with a chunky silver

chain attached to one of your belt loops

and fishing down into your right pocket.


A black ring-binder is open in your lap,

all the pages smooth and shiny, printed

in full-color, a textbook, but loose-leaf.

Is that the way they make them now?

I can read part of one of the headings

upside down, something about

sustainable growth. Maybe you’re a

green-guy with your long dark hair,

parted down the middle, caught in a low

ponytail, a rugged black, resin-strapped,

green-guy watch around your wrist.


Your head begins to nod, down, down,

down until your chin is on your chest.

You jerk upright and try to focus on your

book, but your eyes get heavy and your

head gets heavier, and you nod, nod, nod,

down, down, down several times more,

until you finally give in to the sleep-

inducing, rocking-rolling motion of the

train, put away your binder, and lean

your head against the window. You are

falling asleep again, but now your head

slides down the glass. You pull your head

up, it slides down the glass, you pull your

head up, it slides down the glass several

times, until at last, you rest your head on

the back of the seat, and go to sleep.


Your face relaxes. Your lips soften and part.

You look so young, so vulnerable, so peaceful,

sweet. We are strangers on a train, but what is

infinitely stranger is what I feel: a sudden

impulse to kiss your lips so imperceptibly you

would never know it happened. I am startled.

What an odd thing to think. I sense no sexual

spin on it, so what  bubbled up from my inner

life into reality just then?


Days later an answer comes to me.

The imagined kiss feels like it was

a benediction on the innocence,

the seemingly limitless future,

the promise and vulnerability of youth,

my own youth,

I am tenderly kissing goodbye.


Ann Keiffer

January, 2009



About Ann

I am interested in the strange beauty of brokenness, in transforming possibility in difficult times, in how we heal even when we can’t get better, in the alchemy of surrender, in the interplay of light and shadow, in the bounty of everyday wonders, in the gift of laughter…and writing about it, all and everything.

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