faint stars . . .
the cabby speaks
This wonderful haiku begins by setting a dream-like tone. The “faint stars”
imply a night sky that demands attention by virtue of its very ambiguity.
One knows that the stars are there, but there is something obscuring that
reality, leaving the reader in a state of muted anticipation. Is it an overcast sky? The surface
light from a city that never sleeps? The possibilities far surpass the simplicity of the words
that imply them.
And then, the cabby speaks of home. A man with a lonely job, just trying
to make an innocent connection during the hustle and bustle of yet another
day. Perhaps English is not his first language, and his native country
on the other side of the planet. One imagines him engaging an unwitting stranger in a decidely one-sided
conversation, all in an attempt to transcend the miles that separate him from home.
As one who grew up in New York in the seventies, two “taxi” themes are
permanently ingrained in my memory: Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976)
and the song Taxi by Harry Chapin (1972).
In the movie Taxi Driver, Robert De Niro plays the part of Travis Bickle,
a loner who takes a job as a cabbie during the night shift because he is
He offers very few facts about his background. He is a 26 year-old ex-Marine
with a clean driving record. He is a faceless person in a crowded city.
Out of an acute desire to somehow escape his isolated life, he obsesses
over a young campaign worker, played by Cybill Shepherd, and then a child
prostitute, played by Jodie Foster.
In the movie’s dramatic conclusion, the child is forcibly “rescued”
from her pimp and reunited with her family—a homecoming that Bickle will
likely never experience himself.
Harry Chapin’s Taxi is sung in the first person, drawing the listener
into the story of a cabby, who by chance is reunited with an old flame. The
encounter reawakens the memory of their youthful aspirations: “She was gonna
be an actress, and I was gonna learn to fly.”
Their brief time together concludes anticlimactically. Before the ride
ends the two would-be lovers are again safely distanced from their dreams
and one another: “There was not much more for us to talk about.”
Timothy Hawkes’ cabby, under a canopy of thinly veiled stars, has a similar
vision of home—a place of youthful ambition and endless possibility. In
seven brief words, this haiku is a portrait of nostalgia, warmth, and