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Meeting up with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters at the Quality Inn

for Kabby Mitchell III, (1956-2017)  
In Seattle at the Quality Inn off Aurora
and John, I greet an elder brother
with a particular train cap perched on his head,
a Pullman porter whose stepped out of time
while we wait to ride the elevator with my grief
and gratitude and whatever else he has brought
from his travels. I can see how he punches
tickets, memorizes routes and timetables
in the way he cares for me in this moment.
I tell him about you, how you’ll be gone in an hour
or so, but how you’d really left life’s station
a night ago in the arms of a beloved as we rise up
the spine of the hotel. And even though it’s just
the Quality Inn, nothing ornate or special or flashy,
I think about how this unadorned mechanical crate
might transform into Charlie’s Great Glass Elevator
and deliver me to the highest floor of the sky
just to be with you a bit longer, knowing
I would need to return, and not entirely sure
why the divine chose this timetable
at the appointed hour on this specific day
nestled inside this week tucked inside this year
in this crazed century. Kabby, at the Primo Grill
two weeks ago on my last night before leaving
for Limerick, we flirted at the bar
with disaster, you reluctantly,
when I suggested that I might not see you again
if fate would choose to take me away.
You, wide-eyed, incredulous, almost
scolding me for even suggesting
such a possibility. So I returned,
and now you are gone. Strange.
It will take the rest of my strange life
to get used to this strangeness,
like meeting a train porter
in front of a modest Quality Inn elevator
who steps off on my floor
and leads me down the hall
to his hotel room door, stands there with me
for half an hour reciting from John:1,
imploring me to consider how I am here
and that you are now everywhere
as you always have been
with your moonlight eyes and
incandescent smile. He stands there
Meeting up with the Brotherhood of
Sleeping Car Porters at the Quality Inn
no stranger to me than a stranger
I feel ready to know like the first time
I met you two days after 9/11
while we ate a catered fried chicken lunch
from the Southern Kitchen. the hospitality
on the Tacoma campus that day never lost to me
after all these years. He stands there
in front of that Quality Inn door, room 223,
never inviting me in. The train porter
just opens his wallet, removes his business card,
writes his name and his phone number
on the back, hands me his Breaking Bread
Ministries card like a train ticket receipt,
sends me off down the hall to find my room
where we’ll both open
our respective wooden doors and fall
into our separate feathered beds, sleep hard
and wake to break bread
with the day’s breaking news of your leaving
spreading across time and these cities
you’ve inhabited like a love train
not entirely desperate to stay true
to its scheduled departure.
Later, back on campus in Olympia,
my students and I marvel at the unannounced
thunder for a full two hours. There is nothing else
we can do after the emergency alert system
promises hail. We wait. The hail does not come.
They turn in their reflections for the week
slightly disappointed. They leave.
I walk across campus alone almost taking a detour
to your office to see who might reside there now
then drive home through the city expecting
your lightning to strike me dead.
And I admit that I almost wish for this,
rather than make it home safely to go to bed
only to wake to my first day without you,
to wonder whether grace can find me
if I’m not standing before the elevator
at the Quality Inn in Seattle on John Street
with Brother Will looking out for me
looking everywhere for you.

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