Some Stranger’s Passport

/ /

“Or buying this?”
………………………………The utter absurdity…
A long-expired passport? Both had to laugh
At the tag-sale rubbish somebody

Hoped somebody’d pay good money for:
Dented pans, bent spoons, dead bonsai,
Widowed glove, whittled broom, rusty file drawer,

Mismatched anklets, three gnawed dog collars…
Yet it turned out the joke was on her,
Coughing up a couple of dollars

For the passport, its black and white photograph
Having elicited an acute little cry:
‘Oh my God! It’s Uncle Whittaker!”


It wasn’t, of course, and yet
A resemblance arrestingly fine:
Same wide, calm, catlike eyes, wet-

Licked lips (tense with a loosening grin),
Same simple, ample, uplifted
Pompadour, strong fleshy nose, weak fleshy chin…

The joke here—another joke—
Was how Whittaker never would have carried
A passport; he rarely left Royal Oak.

Detroit-born, Whit in the Sixties firmly drifted
Some two miles across the city line,
Never to budge again. (And never married.)


He made a reluctant guest in any home,
Even if (his eyesight compromised
In later years) you volunteered to drive him;

But he’d bend over backward to please
Visitors to his dim, low-ceilinged bungalow.
Self-taught, a pastry chef, Whit favored shiny displays

Of sugary sumptuosity: one, two, even three
Kinds of cake… He kept a slew of cats,
Seemingly all of one somnolent ancestry:

Plump, complaisantly heaped, patiently slow,
Less like living creatures than outsized,
Heated welcome mats.


…Worlds away wheeled one Mitchell J. Mayfair,
Unlikely doppelganger, who hurled
Life-ward with a helter-skelter penchant for

The wild and wooly: Iceland, Rhodesia,
Morocco, India, Tibet,
The island of Pohnpei (Micronesia),

Guam, New Guinea, Mauritius—
And Italy, over and over again.
It couldn’t all be business—too various.

No, Mayfair, another son of Michigan
(Flint, ’24), was your true vagabond, bit
By a boyish, lifelong hunger to “see the world.”


Or so conjectured the old passport’s new
Owner, Whit’s niece, the fantasy-
Spinning Anna-Lisa, who was, at thirty-two,

Working on a novel (subject: Prejudice and Hate),
But in her spare time (the manuscript
Was somewhat stalled) liked to fabricate,

For her dentist fiancé, tales of the debonair
But rugged Mr. Mayfair: a picaresque
Of intrigues, rogueries, and one crushing love-affair,

Events scored to the cryptic, heavily
Stamped pages of the passport clipped
To the bulletin board above her writing desk.


In her fiancé’s favorite episode
An aging Mayfair, in town for a funeral,
Met with an obstacle on Life’s Road:

Whit’s car. Ka-boom: a ripped open knee,
And Mayfair going nowhere for a while,
And blameless Whit springing an amazingly

Kind offer: the injured man should convalesce
In Whit’s own home. Canny Mitchell J.,
Both laid up and hard up, mulled—and said yes.

(If at this juncture he was all
But broke, Mayfair was somebody who knew well
How to make things break his way.)


So, nights, the two gents would ruminate
Over Heartland-style patisserie,
Now and then adjusting, for warmth or weight,

Some dozing and ductile cat,
Their chat companionably
Flowing, forever homing in on that

Incomparable boon, a Motor City boyhood.
Some hard times—both would agree—
But no question life was good,

Good in that metropolis of destiny:
The nation’s Arsenal of Democracy,
Later its Engine of Prosperity.


Each was 4-F, tending the War from home:
Bond rallies, banners, all-night factories,
The Motor City revving to a steady roaring hum,

War in the Old World and war
In enfevered island-chains nobody could
Have located on a map before.

Global war, everywhere war,
And our own Detroit the fountainhead
Of a rich red molten river on whose far shore

Waited an earth burned free of enemies,
Tyranny yielding to brotherhood
And fealty to the imperishable dead.


Peace was blue and yellow; it was sunshine;
Carting old goods to the junk heap,
New clothes on the clothesline.

Peace was broad river breezes born
Flaglike to flutter, bank to bank, America to
Canada: lands of the free. Was popcorn,

And popped corks; money in the bank;
Sweeter streets, a loiter-and-linger;
It was reborn ornament, chrome and silk and swank.

Was make-up. And nylons. It was barbecue.
And songs more hopeful because no longer
Needing to dwell on hope.


And everyone, everywhere, needing everything:
Cars, stoves, rugs; tools, toys; toasters, lamps, chairs.
Time for a universal refurbishing;

Time for Fill the tank, and Run a hot bath;
Time for This man Likes the Looks of Luxury,
And, Can’t decide—why not take both?

Time for Wealth without parallel,
Assembled goods borne on waves so great
All shall be lifted on their swell,

Haves and have-nots in an equality
Banishing those old bugbears,
Prejudice and Hate.


So, nights, talk circles round
To Mitchell’s Roman signora—a mystery
Woman, bright and dark, simple and profound.

Livia. Livia, a painting come to life:
Hot hazel eyes, and auburn hair.
A quick, unexpected, golden laugh.

Livia was glamorous. Well-educated.
Livia could draw, act, sing.
And she was married, though long separated,

To a detestable s.o.b.,
Who regularly had beaten her,
Though she was a fragile, bird-boned thing.


Livia, daughter of Catholic Italy.
No considering divorce. Or ever leaving
A city that jailed her in misery.

She wrote poems. She was highly artistic.
And moody, judgmental, severe.
He’d never known anyone so fatalistic.

Nothing can change! Ever! And nothing to do
But make dinner, or make love, criticize
Or weep or brood, proud at least in knowing you

Aren’t one of the ones deceiving
Themselves, refusing to recognize
That life grows grimmer, year by year.


His innamorata had mastered the art
Of holding him intact
While holding him apart,

Knowing perfectly well
He was bewitched and would never, for all he
Chose to struggle, break the spell.

“Hell. I’d resent her, she weren’t so pitiful.”
…….And Whit, munching a cocoa bourbon ball,
Mishearing the last word as beautiful,

Smiled sweetly, understandingly,
Just as if he had in fact
Heard and understood it all.


A front porch, a solemn reckoning. Two men,
Such warmth: a brief adieu.
(Fate won’t throw them together again.)

One says, “I’ve learned…” and drops the rest.
One nods agreement, looking worn. (Travel is aging,
And some things better unexpressed.)

Then off, on his suave cane—but not before
Once more turning to address the other,
Already sliding behind the heavy door.

The lone world wayfarer, ever engaging,
Has the last word, then. To his all-but-brother
He calls, over his shoulder, “You know, I envy you.”