by James Mulhern


The twenty-something blonde offered

to lift my suitcase to the overhead compartment.

The thin boy with glasses said he’d push my cart

of groceries if I wanted help to the car.

The high school girl behind the glass

passed a senior ticket without my asking.

My principal inquired, “When will you be retiring?” 

My neighbor (close in years) has cancer.

My doctor said men my age have difficulty peeing.


I’ve taught stories about rites of passage my whole career

—a first kiss, the first date, marriage, and children.

When the young woman looked at my gray hair

and offered to lift my luggage, 

I thought of these other rites, 

and the Last Rites, too.


As the plane rose through the clouds, I felt turbulence.

Outside the rain-pattered window was solid blackness.

I saw an old man. I knew what was behind me.

I knew what lay ahead.


How odd that an act of kindness made me think so much.

When we landed, the suitcase seemed heavier.

My exit was clear.