Neponset Circle

For my wife Carol,
the woman who drives me to Poetry

The Quincy AA Group
liked to let Charlie drive
on their commitments.
He was a careful driver
who stayed a mile or two under the speed limit,
and he liked to leave a little earlier than other people would.
But he never missed a turn or had to ask for directions,
and he always got the group to the meeting
on time.

Sometimes a newcomer would ask
why they had gone from Quincy to Brockton
by way of Neponset Circle—
there are back roads into Brockton, short cuts.
An old-timer would whisper, “Shhhh.
We know that that there are quicker ways.
But Charlie likes to drive.
And he can get us anywhere in the world—
as long as he starts from Neponset Circle.”

Most of us see the world as spiderweb,
all sorts of intricate connections,
alternate routes. A good sense of direction
and a roadmap and we’ll always find our way.
Charlie saw the world as a bicycle tire,
spokes crossing each other here and there,
but all of them running straight to and from
one heart.

Over the years a lot of people got
too impatient to put up with Charlie’s ways—
he wouldn’t even take the Squantum Street cutoff,
they’d complain, and you could almost
see Neponset Circle from both ends.
Sometimes they’d maneuver themselves
into the front seat to make suggestions:

“Charlie, this right goes straight to Hancock Street.”
“Yup, I know,” he’d reply, and cruise right by,
while the oldtimers puffed serenely in the back.

“Insane,” the dissidents called Charlie,
or “anal,” if they’d had Psych 101;
“compulsive.” As though we all weren’t.

But he drove them crazy. Eventually
they’d take their own cars, thank you,
trust their own internal compasses.

And for awhile, they would look good.
They’d leave a little later and be
sipping coffee smugly when Charlie’s cadre
of newcomers and oldtimers sauntered in.
But sooner or later they’d miss a turn and get lost
and a commitment would go by the boards, unmet,
and if it was a prison or a hospital,
there’d be no meeting there at all that night
and that was serious.

The oldtimers knew that it would happen
because all the alternate routers had to go on

was their own sense of direction.
Charlie had Neponset Circle.
Carol, my love,
you’re my Neponset Circle.