It is so beautiful, so beautiful, in New York, on a warm
Winter afternoon, on the subway platform,
On pure impulse, perhaps an excess of happiness,
Jumping off the local and onto the express.
The A train, which Duke Ellington recommended we take,
It is standing right there for heaven's sake,
And how often does one get to ride along
On a train that inspired a great song.
But he meant take it to Harlem
And this is heading for Brooklyn, 11 a.m.
Across from two women sitting in front of the subway map
and I don't want to disturb them
And lean up close so I can figure out my stop
For fear they might call a cop
So I just ride along. The older woman has big glasses and
The younger woman has a stud in her nose.
Two men across from me, one in black jacket and pants,
The other, bearded, mouth wide open, taking a snooze,
Plus two black ladies speaking Spanish and a Latino guy
Listening to his iPod which is turned up rather high,
Hooded sweatshirt, baseball cap, holding two grocery bags,
His eyes are closed and his head sags.
And now we are at Jay Street, the conductor says, wherever
that may be,
And of course I could say to someone, "Pardon me,
But I am not from here and I'm wondering where we are"
But everyone in this particular car
Seems to be occupied,
Music or sleep or talking to someone alongside,
And we of the Midwest, such as St. Paul,
Were brought up not to be any trouble at all,
So I simply ride, and now what had been transportation
Is an act of meditation,
In which you forget about your destination
And you accept the subway as an experience,
You among Cubans, Haitians, Russians, Ukrainians, and
A small Latina woman sits down next to me with long
nails, checkered coat, high heels, and enormous purse.
And a small boy who appears to be hers.
A tall black woman, hair in a bun, large gold earrings,
black dress pants,
And I take a chance
And I say,
"Excuse me, but where is this train going?" She says, "Far
So that's where I'll go. Why not? I've never been.
I, one of three white men
Among all these darker faces
Of other races.
Me and a man in a suit with earbuds in
And a kid with a yarmulke fastened with a hairpin
And a white button-down shirt and his face is
Sweet and freckled and he smiles and his mouth is full of
Next to him a man in sweatpants and scuffed shoes,
Hooded sweatshirt, reading the Daily News,
And one seat a-
Way, black woman, late 20s, well-dressed, eating a pita,
And man with buzzed brown hair, snoring soft and deep,
Wakes up at Euclid Avenue, looks out, goes back to sleep.
Bald man with gold-rimmed sunglasses, all alone,
Taking pictures of himself on his phone.
Stylish black woman, curled eyelashes, leather skirt down
to her knees,
Young woman with a baby and a bungee bracelet with her
Three black boys, teenagers, pants at half-mast,
Talking to each other, low and fast.
Gentry and poor, asleep or awake, white, black, Asian,
And me the Caucasian,
Riding side by side on this transcendental occasion,
Forty persons, half of them asleep, rocking toward Far
Above ground now, graffiti, church steeples, bare trees, sky
Red brick buildings, satellite dishes, a clock tower,
Little houses with tiny yards out back,
CVS Pharmacy, 99-Cent Paradise, IHOP,
A few persons get off at each stop,
Aquaduct, Ozone Park, Nassau Expwy.
Then tall grass and swamp land, barbed wire fence,
Sun reflecting off the water on a suddenly sunny day.
Tall brown grass like wheat stalks or flax,
A boat with two fishermen trolling beneath the tracks,
People on the beach. A channel, Houses on the bank, on
stilts, side by side,
Desolate, broken windows, unoccupied.
Used car lot, laundry, high-rise, condos in a row,
Right side of the tracks looks nice, left side not so.
Rundown houses, abandoned cars, where you are greeted
By a sign: "Divorce: $399. Spouse's signature NOT
Edgemere, Wavecrest, and then the end of the line.
I walk around on the platform in brilliant sunshine,
There does not seem to be anything for me in Far
No long lost friend, nobody walks up to me to say,
"If you guess a riddle, I will grant you an entire century
Without grief or illness or even slight injury."
No wizard, fairy godmother, or even jolly old elf,
And so I get myself
Back on the train to Columbus Circle where I will switch to
And ride back uptown to where I ought to be.