Subway photo by Robert Stribley

Subway Poems

Over a couple of years, I wrote a series of subway poems. Here they are now all together. Like train cars lined up neatly in a row.

Subway Poem 1

These skittering people on the train
Avoiding the berth of a huddled man
Fearful of his fear, his dissipation
The most helpless ever receiving the least help


Illustration by Helena Jepsen

Subway Poem 2

When the doors slid open
He left his seat and looked back
To confirm he’d left nothing behind
Though some years before he left his spirit
But did not pause to confirm its disappearance


Subway Poem 3

Her on the subway reading Jung
Eyes aflutter, though, never settling
A permanent smile, dark eyebrow arched
Betraying the flit and flicker of her mind
Copper fingers interlaced, yet trembling
Her heart astir with Spring


Subway Poem 4

Friday riders relax their bearing
Shunted homeward, slim smiles tweak their lips
Their heads turn to address and inquire
Though still isolated by the slender strings
Threading their chosen soundtrack through tender tympani
Still, more aware of the rich, heterogeneity enveloping them


Subway Poem 5

She clutches the rail with striated bird hands
Lips pressed together tight to ward off the thrusting crowd
The floral silk of her blouse espouses
A more colorful demeanor than her gray countenance
Good for health, says the white lettering on her crisp, green bag
Her other, seated across from her
Free of fear
Her lipstick has run into her chin
Spittle flies with each other word
As she addresses her seat mate
I’ll fly, she says, I’ll fly, I’ll fly!


Subway Poem 6

On the subway, across from me
I see a girl with the same scar
as I.

A compound fracture to the radius on her left arm
leaves its tracks down the otherwise smooth skin
of her arm.

We have something in common.
And nothing in common.


Subway Poem 7

Young European girl, twenty-something
slouching beside her hooded friend
She sucks her thumb
And I smile
Hoping she sees it
not as a smile of derision
But of understanding
I know, it’s a big city
Filled with buzz, jitter, and judder
Like so much else of the world


Subway Poem 8

When two trains follow each other
beneath the ground,
the impact for a moment is such that
We are each human fish in an aquarium
staring across the few scant feet
to the human fish in the aquarium
just beyond our group
but eternally out of touch
before slipping up and away into the darkness.


Subway Poem 9

Two older men on the train,
Reflecting each other across the aisle
Graying, grizzled with beards
Clothing distressed, huddling
Their belongings in bundles at their feet
Invisible to others, brothers to themselves
When one spoke, the other attended, responded
Used to being unlistened to himself


Subway Poem 10

There’s a man at the foot of the subway stairs
Angular, thin, white with graying hair
All pale against the pool of blood about him
And splashed upon the wall
He has fallen

After the sirens
A woman descends the stairs slowly to help him
It seems she will never arrive


Subway Poem 11

The one F train driver
Her tones a calm, smoky jazz
You all have a good week, a lovely day, she says
And for once we think, yes, we will
Thanks to her
Believing in us


Subway Poem 12

Red riding hood sits slumped on the F Train,
No longer little nor lithe
That hood definitely protection
Against whatever wickedness she’s weathered
Via the wolves of the world
Her eyes shut against the elements


Subway Poem 13

Standing at one end,
looking down the morning train,
as it emerges from its tunnel
onto the sunsplashed Manhattan Bridge.

The faces of these travelers,
largely calm, impassive,
as they align this carriage,
their bodies gently wavering,
like so many grassy stems in a subaquatic passage.


Subway Poem 14

The D train stopped aloft the Manhattan Bridge
Just up the Brooklyn side of the hanger
A young woman slumped to the floor
A police officer on board would stand before her
As one woman traversed the carriage,
Looking for an emergency alarm
While another yelled, “Forget about it! Just forget about it!”
And there you had it
The entire human condition
Encapsulated in a steel tube
Hovering, hesitant over the East River


Subway Poem 15

To behold actual human zombies
Simply stand at the edge of a New York City subway platform
Then watch them shamble towards you
Hurrying to insert themselves between you and the oncoming train
Arms flailing, legs awkwardly flapping
They must. Reach. The vessel.
As the doors slide open, they crash by you
And into the carriage ahead of you
Collapsing through the exiting citizenry
To seize a seat or a position
To be first
Pity the frail human in their way


Writer. Photographer. Interests: immigration, privacy, security, human rights, design. UX: Publicis Sapient. Teach: SVA. Student: NYU’s Global Affairs program.

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