Ode to the New York Subway




In the mornings, amidst the millions,

Sometimes there is movement out there

In the cloying darkness of the tunnels,

When I squint

Through the breath of them all

And around the stagnation.

A separation of shadows,

A shift in the darkness.

I am being watched.


New York subway, you are the infinite headache

that propels me into the real world from dreams.

Through miles of eerie, uncobwebbed viscera,

you blink out of newsprint-encircled swamps

of litter and vermin and blackness,

languid. Patient.

You are the unsilent, the too-alive,

the hordes of us clinging

to something—anything—

as we are dragged through your squealing, too-full bowels.

You brood beneath the city,

howling, grinning through the rust,

and cackling with livid exposed wire,

mad as you have made us,

unnatural as our daily, weary clamber down to you,

step after puddled, vile step,

foot after foot, with our quiet thoughts of rebellion

packed inside our lunch bags.

You make no sense, subway.

You are 24/7, like us,

but like us, also,

you are faking it.

And you know about our falsness,

because you listen to our muttered frustrations when we blame you for our problems,

to the flaccid bickering that breaks out in your vertebrae,

the beggars’ recitations whining along your arteries,

the drunks’ ceaseless laments curlicueing down your inner thighs,

the buskers’ rhythmic sobs, the homeless’s stuttering snores,

the insomniac breath of the multitudes.

You, who form stalactites of filth on the roof of your mouth

when you drip upon our sodden infidelities,

who roll your eyes when we show you our best

because you have, actually, seen it all.

You are the unflinching witness

to the teeming thousands who daily traverse your staircases

and do not slip.

They are miracles. And you are sick of them.

The embodiment of modernity, once,

now the breathing corpse of corruption,

patched and crutched and painted over,

we ignore you and forget you and revile you,

even as your gleaming rails spark like riots

and the morass of old batteries and piss and soda soaks it up.

Patiently. Viscously. Bitterly.



We have no choice, subway, but to tolerate one another—

we the humans and rats and roaches,

and you, the pulmonary oil slick of our homeland.

We are trapped in you—by you—

and you shriek with us as we stand side-by-side in your throat,

vomit us again and again onto the stinking platforms

where the dancing boys draw crowds

and the drums clatter off the mosaics.

We forget in an instant

the shadows waiting

between the inconceivably-placed lightbulbs

that dot the way to sickening infinity along your skeleton

and glitter as pinpoint reflections in our eyes.

Deep inside your body,

we fold inward and examine our own guts

while you grow bored with our half-thought-of poetry,

our to-do lists and quiet panic attacks.

We examine women’s shoes

and we gaze, unseeing,

into the deadened blackness—

the very belly of you.

We know it, in our twirling wine-soaked wee hours,

as the darkness in us.

The unknowable, gargantuan truth,

laid out like someone is reading our entrails

and predicting our very short future

as we gasp to a halt.

And sometimes, buried in your flesh,

we lock eyes through dimensions

with strangers floating in the miasma of your veins,

another train racing ours,

across the universe of the express/local divide,

and we press our noses to the glass,

and our fingertips.

And we refuse to blink.

We are always moving, subway.

You despise our pushing and swaying and breathing in you,

and we push back against you, with all our loathing.

We smear our handprints into your walls,

we grind our heels into your tiles,

we crowd into you,

demanding and panting and wretched to your blazing eyes,

drinking it all greedily.

Together, we burrow into the meat of New York.

That is the nature of us, together, this city of worms,

isn’t it?

To desire and devour and detest,

to refuse to collapse.


One thought on “Ode to the New York Subway

  1. Pingback: Ode to the New York Subway | LynseyG

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