Subway Sonnet – Train Chemistry – Light That Cannot Be Broken Down For Parts

Molecules (poem by Karin Gustafson, drawing by Diana Barco)

I updated this post for the dVerse Poets Pub prompt for poems about trains and am also linking to Victoria C. Slotto’s blog liv2write2day relating to poems about light.     This poem is not a new one, but it was written on and prompted by the subway on a Monday, thinking about a beautifully sunny Sunday before.

This is a sonnet, a variation of the regular form 14 1/2 lines rather than the requisite 14.   I added the extra couple of words at the end to combat that “patness” that sometimes results from a sonnet’s final couplet.


Yesterday in the dim fluorescence
of subway car, I thought of molecules.
They seemed, in that greyed light, the essence
of life.  I saw them stretched in pools,
sometimes seemingly limpid, other times
volcanic, fervidly swooping me
abubble, then mucking me into slimes
of laval woe, a test tube of to be
or not to be.  Today, I’m by the sea,
and water, vaster than pools, sparkles
under light so immense it cannot be
broken down for parts, yet its particles
raise up the non-molecular part
of me, what refuses to lose heart,
no matter–

(All rights reserved.  Karin Gustafson)

(The drawing above is by my dear friend Diana Barco, who illustrated my book of poetry called “Going on Somewhere,” available on Amazon.)

Check out 1 Mississippi at link above also.

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31 Comments on “Subway Sonnet – Train Chemistry – Light That Cannot Be Broken Down For Parts”

  1. […] and has the same last name as a favorite high school teacher (way back when). Her latest post is Subway Sonnet (as of Sept. 24, […]

  2. claudia Says:

    …the dim fluorescence…this captures the mood on subway wagons so well…being split to molecules and mingle with the crowd before we get off the train at the next station…and then it starts anew…enjoyed this

  3. zongrik Says:

    so did you write this while on the subway?

    • manicddaily Says:

      Yes, I find the subway one of my favorite places to write. I’m lucky, I am able to go in a bit after the main morning rush so I get a seat. And it’s quiet==no internet! Ha.

  4. brian Says:

    a testtube of to be or not to be…nice…really like the little bit of poetical science there at the end as well…you asked for feedback, so….the second line is a little clunky for me…the of at the beginning does not play well and reads more like broken english…

    • manicddaily Says:

      Thanks, I will look it over. The poem doesn’t work so well for me after time either, so that may be the problem. I have a more “trainy” one, but I had never posted before, and I was a bit tired, but I will look it over, or maybe try new one. But, frankly, it’s always the end of this poem I liked the best–the no matter because of the all matter/physics/chemistry business, so I’m sure I should focus more on beginning.

  5. Brendan Says:

    You poem reminds me of a thought I had the other day, that human consciousness is such an opus contra naturuum, such an unlikely impossibility in a molecular sea of black matter that only sunders and unsouls. Great little poem. Only time I saw molecules was when, o so long ago, I took mushrooms and watched first sunlight turn a carpet into a periodic table of elements. – Brendan

  6. Its great to listen to these drifting noises – as we space out and allow i minds to float free we touch the mainframe somehow

    no where better than on a train –

  7. tashtoo Says:

    I thought this a great write…enjoyed the variation on the end as well, thought it gave a great finish. Reads really well out loud. I like!

  8. hedgewitch Says:

    I liked the odd enjambments, actually–they take away from that strait-jacket feel you sometimes get with a sonnet, and I also like the extra added after the last couplet. Aside from form, I like the ideas here–the molecular soup of the crowd, under the microscope of the observer’s eye, then the contrast between that artificial microcosm and the call of the macro seascape. Nice.

  9. swanrose Says:

    very creative… I wonder if it was really inspired by the lights

  10. Reflections Says:

    Nice piece… I too was fascinated by the enjambments. I really like how it carries differently than the typical sonnet.

  11. Today, I’m by the sea,
    and water, vaster than pools, sparkles
    under light so immense it cannot be
    broken down for parts, yet its particles
    raise up the non-molecular part

    I really enjoyed your poem, thank you.

  12. lucychili Says:

    the wonder of life even in industrial spaces is some kind of hope =)

  13. “A test tube of to be or not to be” – I love it! Great write.

  14. “a test tube of to be or not to be” – what a fantastic line! Unique approach to the prompt, and I enjoyed it 🙂

  15. C Rose Says:

    I enjoyed this piece, loved the “to be or not” great homage to the form. Enjoyed it with the 1/2 line and without actually. ~ Rose

  16. I really like this modern take on a sonnet. Also like the way you “see” the breaking up into molecules as though you were given microscopic vision.

    If I were to pick out things that niggle at me (and mind you that’s just me) it would be three words that aren’t quite right imo – “stretched”, “seemingly” and “fervidly”. I checked to see if this were iambic pent, or decasyllabic but you’ve bent that too; so you should be able to play with those lines and get that vision a little more in focus, I think.

    I enjoyed the framework, and the idea very much. Thanks. G.

    • manicddaily Says:

      Thanks, Gay. I will look at that. K.

    • vivinfrance Says:

      I agree – and I also feel that the lack of rhythm mitigates against it: it is difficult to read aloud smoothly. That said, you have all the elements (!) of a terrific poem there, waiting for a bit of a tweaking.

      • ManicDdaily Says:

        I appreciate the comment and I do think the poem a bit of a mouthful but I actually disagree re reading. I tend to write in a way that is dependent on punctuation rather than line breaks–there is no pause at the end of a line but only at a punctuated pause like a comma or period. In that case, read as sentences, it reads pretty easily. I do understand that many readers take a break with the line break so that makes it complicated unless I actually make a readers’ note. This is of course a problem.

  17. I like writing sonnets. I find them romantic, and yours had that feeling. Nice to see a poem in form. Thank you for posting this.

  18. df barker Says:

    Stunning poem, in my opinion! ‘then mucking me into slimes
    of laval woe, a test tube of to be/ or not to be.’ this passage is just sublime, and I love the way it ends almost ironically in ‘mid air’, so to speak, with a double meaning, almost like Shakespeare in ‘what’s the matter?’ Wonderfully imaginative and I can relate to the way your thoughts were flowing with this.

  19. This is so good. My brain often goes in that direction, too…to the energetic/molecular source of creation. That little 2 word addendum: no matter–packs a punch.

  20. I love “a test tube of to be or not to be”. I really like this.

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