Monday Doldrums – West Side Story Sonnet on the East Side Train

Opening of "Somewhere", Music by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

A certain damp dullness hangs over the subway car this morning, the Number 5, Lexington Avenue express.  We diversified New Yorkers are unified here, in our experience of rain-moistened Monday fatigue.  The hems of our pants are limp.  More than half of our eyes are closed.  (By this, I mean, both of the eyes on more than one half of the passengers.)   The guy next to me has a uniquely beady intensity;  he definitely stares at something.  But when I follow his gaze, I find the blank window on the other side of the car.  I notice then too that the corner of his baseball cap also actual drips whole gobs of unheeded moisture, so I’d just as soon not vouch for his alertness.

The girl opposite also has both eyes open, but her mouth is open too.  The movement of her tongue can be seen under her lips, the skin of chin and cheeks; she appears to search the insides of her mouth, though she is not eating, nor is she noticeably carrying food.  These factors tend to put into question her “on-top-of-things-ness.”

The only person who can truly qualify as “engaged” is a tall young African-American man who reads the Daily News analysis of the collapse of the Jets.  So, engaged, yes, but not exactly cheerful.

Seriously.  What shines here is not a single “morning face”, but only the wet spots on the train’s dark linoleum floor shine, and an occasional crumple of cellophane.

All this makes me think that it’s really too bad I wasn’t on the local;  the No. 6 specifically, leaving from Spring Street.  I used to take that train frequently and noticed that a curious configuration of curve and track caused it to sound out a specific musical interval each time it left the platform.   Although it’s an East Side train, the interval corresponds to one  of the song openings from West Side Story. (Which brings up a completely different kind of Jets.)

So, in honor of those three notes, I set forth below a kind of silly, kind of “Shakespearean” sonnet:

Subway Song

The subway sings its broken refrain,
the opening bars of “There’s a Place
For Us” from West Side Story.  The train
croons the first three notes leaving the dais
of the platform, the tune subsiding
to squeak and wind and roar as train races
to a-harmonic levels, providing
speed without Bernsteinian traces,
those tragic lovers defiant of fate
and enmity. Yet, at every station,
they sing again.  Who of those who wait
hear the song of that yearned-for destination,
that lyrical place, beyond how, beyond where,
amazed that the Six Train nearly takes them there?


I am linking this post to Victoria C. Slotto’s Liv2write2day blog, for her prompt on Sacred Music.  The sounds of the Number 6 are not exactly sacred, but they are pretty lovely when you are standing in a grey tunnel.

All rights reserved.  Karin Gustafson

For a more serious subway sonnet, click here.

P.S.  No copyright infringement of “Somewhere” intended, beautiful song.  (Btw, I haven’t noticed that any credit is given to Bernstein by the IRT.)

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14 Comments on “Monday Doldrums – West Side Story Sonnet on the East Side Train”

  1. Wonderful writing :)The imagery is lovely.

    • manicddaily Says:

      Thanks! It’s a bit of a joke, but also amazing that the subway creaks actually do correspond to the opening measures of the song.

  2. Jingle Says:

    lovely rhyming words.
    well done.


  3. You know I have never seen West Side Story? This is a fabulous sonnet and I love the way you set an atmosphere with description of the subway and the occupants

    • manicddaily Says:

      See the movie! It really is terrific. Music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, based, of course, on Romeo & Juliet. It’s a bit old-fashioned, I guess, but the music really is lovely, and there is great dancing.

  4. luna15 Says:

    i enjoyed it. and west side story is one of my favs. but I grew up in a different world where music ruled.
    enjoyed this alot.


  5. I thought it was great what you did with this. No joke!

  6. Yousei Hime Says:

    Bravo! Encore. I saw West Side Story last year, so many of your references are fresh to me. And a sonnet! I love seeing this form in use today. Really enjoyed this.

  7. Victoria Says:

    Karin, this is so well done. I felt like I was riding that subway with you, studying what was going on around me, immersed in an experience I’ve never had. (Used to ride the Metro in Paris though). I enjoyed how you applied your experience to West Side Story. Very apt.

  8. Interesting way to approach the challenge. Well done .. my first date with my husband was to go to the movies to see West Side Story. He was a Hell Burner gang member … he wanted to see how a gangs were portrayed. They were a little lighter than what most gang members would look like. Your poem is excellent in your descriptive portrayal.
    Very nice,

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