In What Language Does the Rain Fall
I see her a block away, a small dark-haired woman
getting drenched in the rain, no umbrella, no coat.
It doesn’t seem to bother her much, the rain.
She keeps a steady pace up Lefferts Boulevard,
like she has someplace to be, someone
expecting her maybe, work, family.
For once I’ve remembered an umbrella
new, sturdy, big enough for two,
but I hesitate because this is New York
and who knows what this woman will think
about a stranger running behind, waving
a polka-dot umbrella like a cartoon weapon, maybe.
I consider turning back to my empty apartment,
forget the coffee I was headed for, forget the subway,
but the rain is so heavy, drops the size of quarters
and the woman is so small
and I hate to be wet like that
and most people hate
to be wet like that
so I do it anyway.
I try not to startle her. I make noise.
I stomp a puddle, clear my throat.
I say, “Excuse me, would you
like to share my umbrella?”
I say, “This rain is crazy,” and laugh
and hope I don’t sound crazy as the rain.
The woman turns to look at the umbrella and smiles.
She says in Spanish she’s sorry
she doesn’t speak English.
My Spanish is terrible, though I’ve studied for years
and have lived in New York for years
and once had to order a Nitro patch at a pharmacy
for my mother whose bad heart acted up during a trip to Madrid
but that was an emergency and emergencies
transcend distance and words, borders and shame.
The pharmacist in Madrid was kind, patient,
I tried to say te ayuda, and
mi madre tiene
un mal Corazon.
Help me, my mother has a bad heart,
and finally no a muerte, no to death,
bad Black Sabbath lyrics
and he answered in English
I will help, do not worry,
then patted my hand
like a friend.
When confronted with someone in ordinary life
who speaks no English, I revert to baby Spanish,
Hola, me llama es,
and the one useless line I recall
from a test I got a C on in high school,
mis zapatos estan aprentando:
are squeezing me.
The woman in the street stares
at me and I stare back.
My mother did not die in Madrid.
She died at home years later, in her own bed.
I was there beside her.
I like to think that mattered some.
I smile at the woman and point to the umbrella.
I try to remember the word for umbrella
and pull out flor
which means flower.
The woman pats my hand
and scootches next to me
and we huddle under the blossom.
We walk for blocks together like that,
not saying anything
just two people
trying our best, for now
to stay out of the rain.
Lori Jakiela is the author of seven books, most recently the poetry collection How Do You Like It Now, Gentlemen (Brickhouse Books). Her newest book, They Write Your Name on a Grain of Rice, is forthcoming in 2023 from Atticus Books. She lives in Trafford, Pennsylvania. Her author website is http://lorijakiela.net.