Published August 24, 2010
I forget to look up until the train comes out of the tunnel into the light. It’s wonderful here. A man at one end of the train is sleeping in swimming goggles, his eyes pulled tight where the suction connects to his skin. At the other end are two girls, the younger swings on the armholds like gymnastic equipment, the older one cocks her hip and rolls her eyes.
Next to me, a man is marking in a library book with a dull pencil, and across from him, a woman catches my probing eye, then yawns and stares off into the distance.
By the door, a tall man holds a woman’s hand between his palms and murmurs in Russian. I can tell by the look in his eyes, he’s pleading for understanding. This goes on the whole way over the bridge, and eventually, as we ride back under the city, she smiles.
I haven’t been on the subway in a long time.
Published March 15, 2010
I’m moving apartments soon, and today the streets are full of stories I know. There is the man I thought was a spy. There is the woman I always think is someone else. There is the mother who yells at her sons in the sharp snaps of a language I don’t understand. There is my neighbor with the pain in his hip. There is the owner of a closed café. There is a man with whom I danced in a bar. There is the man whose life story I overheard. There are all the people whose life stories I overheard. There are all the people who gave them willingly to me.
Published January 7, 2010
It was just like this. A girl on the last page of her book, murmuring the words aloud, I can read her lips only because I know it by heart: it eluded us then, but that’s no matter. Next to her, a woman with a tiny Hebrew bible is mouthing the words of her devotion as fast as an auctioneer. At the other end of the car, there’s a man with thin, unruly hair. He’s slumped over as though he were drunk, or sleeping, one shoulder lower than the other, listing, his chin collapsed to his chest. He’s staring at his open, empty palm in his lap, tapping it lightly with his index finger.
Published October 15, 2009
Today everyone’s talking. The contractor wants to talk about my shoes. “They’re good for my back,” I tell him. “Usually I slouch.” I drop a shoulder forward to show him, and he taps it with one finger. “Bad habits,” is all he says.
The butcher likes my scarf. “Emergency purchase, the other day when it got cold all the sudden.” He smiles. “That’s the only way to shop.”
Out on the street, a little boy backs up against his mother’s legs and stares at me. “Your hair is red,” he says. He’s terrified.
Published April 26, 2009
multiples , women and men
A small pregnant woman with a big voice comes in and says to no one in particular, “Where’s my husband at?” She looks at the proprietor. “How come you don’t know where my husband’s at?”
“He’s off today,” the man says softly.
The woman turns to a tall black girl in gold sandals and tight shorts. “You grown up,” she says, louder than necessary in the cluttered aisle. “I saw you. You grown up to be a good lookin’ girl.”
The girl speaks softly too, as though the woman has stolen all the volume the room gets. “Thank you very much.” She looks a little embarrassed.
“Where’s my husband,” the woman turns back to the proprietor. “You a bad father-in-law, how come you don’t know where my husband is,” she asks, cocking her hand on her hip. “Hmph.” She doesn’t leave him much room to answer. The man looks startled and shakes his head. She gives him a hard look and then, thinking better of the whole thing, just sways her hips out the door.
Published February 27, 2009
There’s no train, and there’s no train. Everyone paces in small circles, or rocks back and forth on their feet. They lean out past the edge to check for lights, it’s like a Busby Berkeley number, bodies fanning in sequence. There’s a young woman dressed not like a secretary, but how she imagines a secretary would dress. It’s a little too fanciful, her shoes are dainty and the headband holding back her dark hair is almost a tiara. A skinny man swings a book by his side, his fingers marking his distracted place.
People are still pacing and checking their watches. Ten minutes go by. A few more. Then suddenly we are in it together. The skinny man steps close and asks me if I heard any announcements. He thinks it might be better to give up and walk to the next station. I ask him what he’s reading, he says it’s dry but useful, and reads the title aloud to me in a mocking voice. Then he rocks forward to check the tracks again.
Behind us, a bald man in dorky sneakers asks the girl where she got her tiara.
Published November 25, 2008
There are teenagers lining the sidewalks. They are judging everyone.
Published November 19, 2008
Winter is clearing the streets. The corner boys have taken their business underground, their lookouts are gone from the bodega steps. Everyone walks with their head down against the winds that rush at them, or the winds that are rumored to come. Even on the subway, the warmth is drained out of the riders. They burrow into their coats and scarves. They are insulated from each other as well as the cold. Nobody casts a searching glance. Nobody exchanges a nod.
Published November 5, 2008
Today, nobody is a stranger.
Published September 20, 2008
The old people have taken the buns off their hamburgers. The man in the suit speaks Italian in a heavy voice. The boy’s face twitches as his father talks. They don’t seem to know each other very well.