On The Buses

by Marilyn Francis
The Write Idea
Third Place, October 2015
Judged by Barbara Siegel Carlson


My first was the 27.
A marvel among the one-a-minute 30s
along the Marylebone Road.

I used to worry
that I would be lost in the fug of bodies
and London Transport upholstery.

That I would forget where to get off
end up at the depot, mislaid.
Unclaimed.

And now the mislaid and unclaimed
spend all-night on buses, sleeping
looping the city streets until dawn

to disembark where they started
and where they will begin again
after dark

on the last bus to nowhere.
On the numberless transport
of the dispossessed.


This deceptively plain-spoken terse poem carries great power and lyricism. The language used to describe riding the bus is unique and the poem is unified through its assonance as in mislaid/unclaimed, and disembarked/ started/ dark and numberless/ dispossessed. We go from focusing on individual numbers and names to the numberless largely invisible, those for whom the buses are a kind of interminable and ironic ‘home.’ The poem is finely controlled and turns in the middle shifting the focus from the speaker to the homeless, the turn on the repetition of “mislaid” and “unclaimed,” leading to a larger vision by illuminating a hidden reality. The harmonics are powerful through heightening the emotion and irony, especially in the final stanza. --Barbara Siegel Carlson

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