A faceless orator informs the air
of elevator problems, parking lot
security, malfunctions taking fare,
and items “lost” that really were forgot
by passengers distracted, unaware,
and now without. The PA chant is shot
aloud and signals like a verbal flare,
employing syllables to say what’s not.
The phrase “Lost in the system” is their tell
for indicating items left aboard
a crowded train – as off as “Oakland West”
was once, enough affected to repel.
Around me other passengers ignore
advice so hyperbolically expressed.
You walk to work each morning, in a way –
a mile to the train and then a ride –
and often that’s the best part of your day:
a gentle trek when you can look inside
yourself, articulate and plow the air
as fresh as rain with purpose and with pride.
You feel as if you cleave the atmosphere,
like Moses come to separate the tide.
Impelled by anger, joy or other frame
of mind, you travel on the fullest length
of both your legs – you’re striding and you’re game
for any path that demonstrates your strength.
Around you harried drivers thumb controls
of wont, and hunch within their cars like moles.
I couldn’t help but notice yesterday,
no matter where I went, it seemed to me
that drivers wouldn’t tolerate delay,
and using horns they built cacophony.
Not once did I observe near-accident,
and never did I note them used to warn,
but every other driver showed intent
to supplement his fuel with honking horn.
Is there some folklore in this noisy rite?
Is it a charm for passages and light?
There ought to be a purpose to the noise,
a matter more than tantrums for the boys
and girls coerced to pilot these machines,
incarcerated, belting empty screams.
He has a coat and jacket, shirt and vest,
but pulls the extras off to read and ride
and nap, commuting home. He starts his rest
and I can see his head and eyelids slide –
he’s sloping east while sun sets in the west.
His elder face in creases dignified,
his glasses glinting downward as his chest
inverts to slouch – it’s like he’s fortified
by extra clothing round his scanty form,
by magazine positioned at his waist.
Upon a window seat, in air too warm,
he screens a waking dream of dinner’s taste.
His rangy eyebrows hang like willow fronds
that sweep the shadowed surface of a pond.
So complicated is society,
that over all the eons has evolved
to felt a fabric of conformity
compressed. It seems our politics dissolved
the bright connections out of which we made
a counterpane. It’s iron comedy,
or comic irony. Our escapade
is intricate; we run it clumsily.
I wonder we don’t wonder we can move
without collision. It amazes me
to share a train with hundreds half-an-hour
in sleepy co-existence, as we prove
our evolution in a company
unchosen, underneath electric power.
I get a little span of privacy
before the seat beside me’s occupied
and open up this book: three minutes free
to put to words the gloom I host inside…
No sooner written than it comes to be –
as quick as ballpoint ink is laid and dried,
a fellow takes the space but doesn’t see
my writing, for he’s studying a guide.
Arrest Report Appendices, I note,
as I allow my glance a shifting right
and glimpse his shaven head, his hairy toes
in Birkenstocks, his youth a bright
momentum, quiet energy at bay,
infecting me resiliently today.
They must have once supported massive weight,
but now they rust a ribcage in the air:
the 17 old I-beams twisting straight
up to a road no longer hanging there.
Like dominos they stand – a rusting line
no finger topples – while the engines eat
among them, rooting-ready by design
to bite the steel that once upheld concrete.
As if a local custom set them so,
they might denote a message to the sky
that priests of industry have placed to show
the height of commerce, or to amplify
their mark, except that demolition’s planned,
and Naked Lady stalks retake the land.