Subway Poem – New York

new york subway Taking the Train of Singularity South from Midtown

I came across this poem by John J. Ronan and thought I’d share it. Not only has the poem a great title but it really captures the movement of humanity in a metropolis, The poet manages to convey the experience of using mass public transport and introduces to us the multitude of characters that take their place on the city stage every day.

42nd St.

As the funnel of everyone in Times Square
cascades down the station stairs,
pace and urgent purpose damming
briefly at turnstiles before cleaving
into streams for an 8th or 7th Avenue
train, an A Train, the Two,
and while quick, diverged currents, hot
and breathless, pick platforms, stop
to listen for slivering steel drums
in the wait for translation to work or home,
here, at the side of a narrow island
forty feet under ground,
with a wind-rush and rattle that drive
away agile, enterprising mice,
Ett Tag, Bir Tren,
Mmoja Treni, Een Trein,
Premier Train, Jeden Trenovat,

the red One Train halts.
A mustered public, potluck, steps
forward, hushed and obscure, hips
Shifting at doors in slide-by
witness, separate bodies white
and yellow, brown, black and tan,
pocked or whiskery, whiskeyed, wan,
green, gray, big or bone-house,
the meek, mouthy, angry, lost –
a tourist who trails maps and binoculars
jamming last onto the crowded car.
App-trance and defensive doze,
deft conventions of eye and elbow
mind the tribes. A breath brushes
your strapping hand. The platform passes.

34th Street

Tumbled from the scrum of Penn Station,
a handsome hardboy’s followed by nuns,
louche in their blue loafers, who start
with the tame tourist, a fresh mark,
move to a laptop on a clenched lap,
a plugged hummer, a patient cop,
smiling saints as they panhandle
the parish – the buxom beauty who pulls
open her purse, continuing slowly
to a witness of rapt women as she throws
dimes into the can, clink, clink:
“The thing of it is, here’s the thing,
the reason. The reason being: yes.”
Eyes rise to Viva Las Vegas!,
Absolut, a scratched Cadbury ad:
Amy + Elvis – together at last.

28th St.

Morning unfolds. A uniformed girl,
perfumed and war-painted, twirls
on arrival, greets the hardboy’s attitude
with a teasing parade of school plaid,
half-and-half harlot, ingénue,
scented in sour grape, Tabu,

23rd St.

Opined widely by a man who makes
his mute partner blush back,
a blonde by the busty mater, opposite
his signing hands and the black habits.
A gently defined, common commute
below Fashion Ave., spelled out
in GAP and caps, Jets, Giants,
Puma, Nike, in tapestry pants,
in the sexy matron, the sibyl, who speaks
with weary and resigned, wisecrack sadness:

18th St.

“Anymore, forsaken. And apart. Anonymous,”
during a door delay in which a pigeon,
bent on a serious, moral mission,
preens onto the car like the pride of Chelsea,
an urban bird who avoids the eyes
of travelers, they in turn avoiding the bird
behind pickets of posture and print..
The nuns, surrounded by trousers, smile.
The bumpkin, gaze behaving, smiles.
The practiced pigeon, a positive nodder,
fronts the speechless woman who figures
food with a brown bag at her knees,
and witness-wise, dim as destiny,
fate or whatever happens, happens,
eats seeds from her open hand.

14th Street

Lights flicker. The train, in fits,
limps to the Village, St. Vincent’s.
The sage woman, staring intensely
at a dark wood of girders and graffiti,
bristles, bosom and big rings:
“The only rebuttal? Love. Longing.”
The cars start. Peeper skews
to Viagra, Visit the Brooklyn Zoo,
listens to chatter blend with brat-
happy prattle, the porn plot
girl who giggles like tickling and sways,
sailor, to the rock and roll of the train,
mix with tin clinks of a can’s
conjured coins, the cluck of nuns,
whole rests from the help-meet
whose pigeon pecks at sunflower seeds,
tightly fused and Ives-like
Suite for City in Clickety-Clack.

Christopher St.

At Christopher, a drunk curses Christ,
easy credit, his mother, the Mets,
warns of the end of the world and laughs.
No one gets on, no one off.

Houston St.

The train stops short of Houston,
stops in the sealed tunnel. Engines
stop, dull lights die
as bodies breathe an undivided sigh.
Lights on. Off. Tense
whispers worm the blind silence,
the stage stripped to underlying time,
a long, long loss of light.
When a Zippo’s flicked at the far end
of the car, the wise woman sends
down a candle, the candle slowly
returned in grudged transfer, glow
soft on the row of stoic handlers,
godgift and galoot, gangbanger,
faces awake in pitch-driven
epiphany, grace held and given.
The hardboy’s forehead flames with lipstick.
The blowzy bird runs before the wick.
Lights. Jerk of cars. Lurch.
Shoes shuffle, buttocks touch,
breasts and elbows, corps de ballet
in brave, awkward, standing balance.

Canal St.

During the usual shift and witness,
the school girl, in gimmick innocence,
leaves with hardboy and his target heart.
“Scratch and match! Tartan. Tats.”
The bird, confident that symbol solves
for self, takes a seat after Canal.

Franklin St.

At Franklin, it’s good-bye to the bum, who rises
with help from the hardy nuns, good-bye
to the quiet signers who nod and stand,
firing silence hand-in-hand.

Chambers St.

Riders, their rides ending or begun,
are off and on, fungible, one.
You, with your field glasses and guides,
you become everyone too, quietly beside
yourself in witless, wondering joy,
no longer alone, no longer on the way,
available day arrived at last,
myriad, American. The platform passes.
Ett Tag, Bir Tren,
Mmoja Treni, Een Trein…

One: existing whole in a sphere,
a numen or essence and no more.
The reason? The reason being: yes,
the breath and brush of necessary witness,
superposition of drunk and dove,
an oracle, blue loafers, love
struck in fugitive communion, close
going on the warm, coincident cars.

You can check out more at

1 thought on “Subway Poem – New York

  1. John J. Ronan

    A damn good poem, if I do say so myself! It was originally in The Recorder, the now-and-then literary review of the American Irish Historical Society. Thanks for the kind comments and I enjoyed the blog.

    John Ronan



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s