Pt. I by Delila Smalley
When I told my students I took this route in hopes of running into them and spending time in their neighborhood, their fleeting look of panic only found relief in the fact that I didn’t get off the bus like I’d wanted. “Ms. Smalley, you trying to get robbed?” was their first response.
Bus 25 goes through Mercy Dr., which is a short road that encases a huge reputation at my school. Entire apartment complexes stand with boarded up windows. A plaza that houses Lakeside Behavioral Institute looks like a standard shopping plaza, and if I didn’t know people who’d been sent there, I’d have no indication that it wasn’t. I’ve heard stories from my students – they heard a man get shot, watched someone get stabbed, ran into someone who escaped Lakeside – and when I drive by, I often imagine how it would be to live there. They are so brave and laugh about these things, but much of what happens in their world goes unnoticed by our general community.
Our drives to work can be automatic, but what happens when we take the time to look around, to ask, to look inside?
On this day I sat together with Ashley and my son—at times in absolute silence, at times laughing about whatever, but always sitting and looking around. This is the time we don’t normally have to spare each day.
I changed seats a couple times during our ride, and my son’s attention followed me like a magnet – patient, watching, gauging. I didn’t have the opportunity of running into any of my students, but I knew that look.
Teaching has taught me the difference between a job and a career. The faces looking across the room or across the courtyard either telling or asking, connecting or disconnecting. This bus ride made clear what I’ve been feeling for years: this look, this child, these students – this is the most I will probably ever know of love.
Pt. II Passenger by Ashley Inguanta
I am in Brooklyn now, on the 3 train headed home, and before I begin this poem, I have to tell you about a woman I just met. I cannot tell you her name, but I can tell you that she shares the name of a woman I knew in Florida who helped me save my own life.
Last month I returned to Florida, a place that grew me for over a decade. When the plane landed, I saw stretches of land and water, and all of that flatness and warmth helped me understand, really understand now, how solace is held by the Earth.
I would stay there, in Florida, for a little over a week. I would see those I love, so many I care about — but not the woman with the shared name.
From plane to bus: the land felt the same–soft, flat, grounding, soothing. I rode with Delila–she chose Pine Hills as our destination. She wanted a chance to run into her students; that’s where they live. I was not only a passenger on the bus, but a passenger on her journey.
I photographed her and her son: the way he looked at her for reassurance when she moved to take a photograph, the way she guided him. I watched Orlando move — the bricks and metal of downtown moved into softer structures, homes. These windows embodied transition.
I remembered another time I rode the bus: last year, around November. I read a poem aloud: “Dedication.”
“This is for the girls who are not the most loved ones in the lives of others.” I remember I rode with no destination.
“Girls, you are not alone.” I remembered how different things were then.
This is where the story turns / Just as the wheel does.
Let’s just say this: I opened a letter one day and a storm was inside. I held it and tumbled in its calm.
But now–the bus, Delila, her son.
Out of my years of living in Orlando, this was the first time Delila and I hung out outside of art shows and literary readings. This was the first time I met her son.
I said, “I’m coming back to Orlando.” She said, “Want to ride the bus with me?”
And as all good adventures are born, I said, “Yes.”
And that day on the bus, I said, “Let’s write a poem together,” and we began. We didn’t finish. But that was okay — we peered into something very necessary in that moment. I do not know how to articulate what we opened–the thing we found has to sift a bit, like many discoveries do.
Later on our ride, I said, “I want to photograph the woman in red.” She reminded me of my grandmother, the way she sat–grounded and calm and elegant.
But by the time I spoke to her, she had to go.
I wanted to create something, but nothing felt right. – The storm I received in an envelope. Someone I loved sent it to me. I kept it. -The women who share a name. I did not ask for either one. I dropped my guard.
I do not know if I will ever receive such a blooming while searching for it, and it makes me ache to know I may have let one of those moments slip by as Delila’s passenger. But I can tell you this:
We began on foot. We watched the city through big windows. The wheel brought us where we needed to go. And let me tell you, Delila’s son looked at her with an adoration you cannot imagine. And I–I missed many things that had transformed. You think you will never say a name again, and then there she is. I accepted that not all poems have a destination.
And when the bus door opened like an envelope, I saw the sun.
Sketch of Our Poem:
I saw a lot of dream cars from the window of a bus,
delicate curves rusting into a fragile frame, yet somehow still beautiful.
As she was, that one year, back arched over the brooklyn bridge, ready to jump in the river.
As he was, that proud frame shaking, saying he loved me while walking away.
I am in Orlando now, and all I want to do is place a tablecloth over the earth, pour orange juice into cups, preparing breakfast for the family that never became my adult life.