Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 1, 2009

Angel On the El

Angel on the El                by Mark Nielsen, April 28-May 1, 2009

I am on an elevated train.
In front of me
sits a man with either a form of Tourette’s,
or more likely schizophrenia.
He talks compulsively,
unable to stop himself.
He narrates the dialogue in his head,
the conversation between himself and the Self,
between the anxieties of the past and the hopes of the present:

“Watch your hat and jewelry, ‘cause they’ll rip them right off of you
when you get down there. But you’re a big guy. They won’t bother you.
They broke my glasses once back in high school. . .”

He gets off at Jarvis,
one stop after he got on:
is he indecisive, lost,
or wandering?
He’s probably off his meds,
or else they don’t do
much good anymore.

I have seen this before.
I once crossed nine states
to recover a sister, lost in New Jersey.

Now he is gone.
It was like a visitation by a strange angel,
walking among us.

He walked among us,
drawing straight with crooked lines,
wings folded, hidden,

asking us to care for him,
to stop simply minding our own business
and get down to God’s mercy,
tempting us to see what he sees,
to hear what he hears
in all its terrifying cacophony.
He attends
to what we are tempted to ignore
(including people like him).

His short sermon was not even heard
by the man with the headphones on,
listening loudly to Cheap Trick’s Surrender
(“Mommy’s all right, Daddy’s all right, they just seem a little weird…” —
arguably my favorite song ever).
Saint Rick Nielsen, pray for us with a great blues riff.

Kid seated next to the door
is laughing derisively at the angel now that he’s gotten off.

No one but me on this train
even knows we’ve just been divinely visited.
I feel the deep grief of God.
I don’t know what to do now —
other than to protect my valuables,
my loved ones,
and to give away my heart,
to surrender,

to get off this slow train,
as the angel has just instructed.



  1. Mark, this is beautiful.

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