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A Poem on the Underground Wall
Darkness, just a reach into the night, reduced those who were waiting to hazy images and thoughts. The saxophonist of sooty fingers, packing his case until morning. The young couple at cross-purposes, where the girl looked to the expanse of train tracks and the boy looked to the dark curls loose upon her slim white throat. And of course the man on the bench and what he saw that night. He had an innocuous first name, such as Harold or Daniel; his suit linen and unremarkable except for a clumsy knitted tie.
The saxophonist shadowed away, the boy closed his eyes, the man and girl caught a drifting scent of pretzels in the air. Perhaps it was Philadelphia from the mustard or Chicago from the brine dill pickles, but in their hearts and minds it was always New York.
When trains roar into the station they cast patterns of light on smooth canvas faces. Sometimes you can read the advertisements by the windows, running on skin. Sometimes you feel a distant wind.
“When?” moaned the boy, lips cold upon her fluttering eyes.
“Not now,” she said.
The man’s left leg numbed from knee to heel, he kept silent still.
A figure emerged beyond the tunnel, an overcoat slung upon stooped shoulders, with stumpy legs beneath. His head crawled through the torn lapels, a broad jaw twitched in time with his gnarled, shuffling feet. Beast or man? Purpose or lack thereof?
The figure approached five feet from the subway bench and watched the walls around, tranced among the filth and flyers. From faint light and the embers of his cigarette, the man watched him hoist a tangerine crayon.
The figure in his overcoat trembled, the whole of him trembled, his crayon shook and scribed something on the walls. An elusive, four-lettered something.
All at once there was a whoop that chilled and warmed the bones--a manic cry. Jumps and pirouettes like wind-blown dandelion tufts, the figure basked in the light of a speeding train, and laughed as he crumbled down.
The man heard nothing, felt nothing, his leg still throbbed. Bone crackled at the thump of his bleeding heart. Hobbling to the wall he searched, yearned, for the message. Nothing. He stood at the edge of the cavernous tracks, looking for mangled flesh and skin. Nothing. There was no poem, no huddled vagabond, nothing but the manic laugh echoing in a mind’s hallowed halls.
What of the girl--had she seen, heard, felt the plaguing something-of-nothing? He watched her red sneakers board the last evening train, as if nothing happened.
The man left for the train as well, aware of space and time and place. He thought of the Caldwell divorce and the creeping price of oil and whether there was bread at home to make a peanut butter sandwich and whether Patsy had the girls this Thursday or next.
Left on the floor long after the train, long after the saxophonist returned and life began again, a pile of powdered something.
The bright orange remnants of a broken crayon.