When I saw quirky Bruce walking toward me up the busy street
With face not relaxed as he maneuvered through people
I stopped him just the same, because I like the guy a lot.
Seeing who had spoken, Bruce grinned and stopped to chat.
During the conversation, the subject of smiling at strangers
Was broached. We agreed it was definitely a worthwhile thing to try –
And parted, feeling luckier to be alive, Bruce continuing to the bakery
For pumpkin muffins now that it was late October,
I homing to my apartment several blocks away. Rounding the corner
Onto the quieter street, I saw two women, each with a patient dog,
Speaking together under an overreaching tree. One of the animals,
A large male German shepherd, I had met and petted last week,
Smiling at its owner who after a bit of chit-chat had given me her name.
Now I thought I remembered what it was: Maxine.

Nearing them, I stopped and spoke it with some conviction.
Pleased, Maxine questioningly replied “Frank?” I answered
No, I try to be straight-forward but no, I am Jonathan.
The other gave hers as Rachel, offering me a hand to take in mine.
“What a lovely name,” I remarked, adding “Rather old-fashioned, isn’t it?”
She said she believed it was not bestowed as often as it had been
When she was young. Had she read My Cousin Rachel I inquired
And when she happily said yes, I recommended the old movie
With Sir Laurence Olivier that co-starred, I thought, Joan Fontaine.
Both women would google the movie. So – three humans, each one
Somewhat happier. Interesting, how the subject of smiling had come up
When Bruce and I had spoken! Resuming my short walk home,
I mused: if I had put my mind to it I could most likely have recalled the name
Of Maxine’s dog. But people’s names are what I treasure more.

Jonathan Bracker’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry Northwest, Southern Poetry Review, and other periodicals, and in eight collections, the latest of which, from Seven Kitchens Press, is Attending Junior High.