Outside of my apartment this morning, I witnessed a strange phenomenon: a bus full of passengers just sitting at the side of the street. I thought that it was waiting for traffic to pass, then when I saw the bus’s number and realized that that bus doesn’t stop at that stop. I then noticed that some of the passengers had gotten off the bus and crowded around the front door looking in warily. “How strange,” I thought, not at all certain what to make of this spectacle.
As the bus stood there and the driver popped in and out of the front door, I decided that something had gone wrong – the signs where there: a bus stopped for a long period at a time at a place it does not stop, the looks on the people’s faces, the bus driver’s agitation. The bus did not appear to be smoking or dented, so it wasn’t an accident. The only other reason had to be something had happened to someone on the bus.
Sure enough, a few minutes later sirens could be heard. An EMT drove up, then a fire truck, then another EMT. I wasn’t able to see who they had dragged out as the bus was in the way, but was surprised when another stretcher came out and went into another vehicle.
This person, though strapped in, rolled about and pulled at the sheet that wrapped around the gurney cushion. He had wild hair and bare feet. The scenario that popped into my head was not a pleasant one. I was certain from the man’s agitation and his dress that there was something more wrong with him than was caused by whatever conflict had occurred. Signs and portents. It takes very little to indicate such things to someone who is a careful reader of the world around her.
In this poem, the poet uses carefully chosen words arranged dramatically to indicate, or show signs, of a moment of great emergency. He needed very few hints to tell him that something was going wrong. Perhaps all he really needed for himself was the Great Figure.
The Great Figure
by William Carlos Williams
Among the rain
I saw the figure 5
on a red
to gong clangs
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.