Posted tagged ‘subway’

Not Quite National Poetry Month but “Good Enough”

May 3, 2010

Diamond Enough

After yesterday’s post concerning the relatively higher payback for posts about Robert Pattinson, I am returning to poetry.  This is, in part, because the  Academy of American Poets announced that it is extending its April program of daily emailed poems for the entire year.  (I figure if the Academy of American Poets can post a poem a day for longer than a month, I can too.)

So here’s another draft poem  (written on the morning subway).   Any suggestions for improvement that you may send are seriously considered and greatly appreciated.

Good Enough

Why is it that they,
the amorphous they,
can never say
you’re good enough
well enough
for you to feel, in fact,
good (enough);
not perhaps like a
diamond in the rough,
much less a diamond buffed,
just not ‘not good enough’.

What can they say
to allay
that bay of inadequacy,
that convenient, if unsafe, harbor,
built-in, if empty, larder?

It sounds like a game,
but if words can tame pain,
rhyme act as anodyne,
it’s worth a shot,
would mean a lot,
maybe, for a short time, enough.

(PS – note that an earlier version of this post incorrectly named the Academy of American Poets.  Sorry, Poets!  Their emailed poems are a feature called “poem-a-day”. )

Speaking Out on the Number 4 Train – Greed, Girls, Yankees

October 29, 2009

Writing a daily blog can do strange things to you.  One of the more dangerous is that it strengthens the propensity (already outsized in most bloggers) to openly speak your mind.

This was brought to my attention last night when I  was jammed on the Number 4 train heading for Game 1 of the World Series.  The guy squeezed next to me had a slightly pudgy face that was decorated by half-there facial hair (some form of beard or goatee, probably intended to better define his face shape.)

He noticed, in the mass of people clumped around the  subway pole, a tall pale guy, whom he recognized.  The tall guy held the hand, knotted around the pole, of a young woman who looked up at him with eyes thick with make-up, shiny with adoration. (It turned out these two had only been married for a month.)  But I digress.

The pudgy guy, clearly hoping to impress the tall guy, told him about that big things had been happening in his life.  He’d gotten married the previous year; his business, four years old, was doing great; he was employing his brother; his wife was expecting.

After asking the tall guy where he lived, he revealed that he’d “closed” on a place in mid-town Manhattan last week.

Finding out that the couple had just married, he asked the tall guy where they’d honeymooned.  “Nice,” he said appraisingly.

They talked of a mutual friend who was also doing great, the pudgy guy said.  This friend had had a student loan business which he sold for $150 million dollars last year, then, “two weeks later,” the pudgy guy went on, “the government changed the regulations for, you know, student loans, and the place literally closed its doors.  Busted.”  He grinned widely.

(For government “changing regulations”, the blogger in me thinks “cracked down on corrupt business practices.”)

“Beautiful,” a third guy said.  I don’t know if this third guy, young, short, bristly, was a stranger or friend.  It’s hard when everyone is cheek by jowl, arm by guy, to know who’s with whom.

Who was going to the Yankees’ game and who was just headed up to the Bronx was a bit clearer.  For example, a very slight Hispanic girl, just opposite me, who had worried eyes, a  worried complexion, a small stud below her lower lip, and a large rumpled SAT prep book under one arm, looked like she was probably not going to the game.  (In fact, she got off in the Bronx, but before the stadium.)

“Well, you must be doing okay,” the pudgy guy said to the tall guy, “if you can buy Yankees tickets.”  He rubbed middle finger to thumb, moola-style.  (He had season tickets himself.)

(I should note here–yes, to make myself look virtuous–that my ticket, the most expensive single ticket, other than for a flight, that I’ve ever held in my hand, was given to me.)

Trying, I think, to change the subject, the tall guy at the pole asked the pudgy guy when his baby was due.  The pudgy guy pulled out a cell phone and directed it to an image of the baby’s sonogram, which he pressed across multiple limbs to his friend’s face.

This might have been a touching gesture.  But he kept saying, “you can see he’s a boy, right?  I mean you can’t miss it, right?”

The tall guy tried to say something about how amazing it was that the pudgy guy had a sonogram on his cell, but the pudgy guy wouldn’t let go of the fetus’s penis. “Look at the size of that.  You know what that is right?  I mean, how can you not see it?”

The tall guy said that he knew what it was.   “You’re happy then, with the baby coming?”

“Oh yeah, sure.  I’m just so glad it’s not a girl.  I’d just hate to have a girl.”

The blogger in me could suddenly no longer control myself.  “I think you’re horrible for not wanting a girl,” I said loudly.  “And I think your friend who made the 150 million for selling his worthless company was horrible too.”

As silence descended over the car, I was glad I had not added anything about the guy’s obsessing over the size of his son-to-be”s genitalia.

No one looked at me, except the third guy, who sneered.  “No, it wasn’t horrible.  I don’t want girls either.  And what that guy did was great.  That’s what capitalism is all about.  That’s what the Yankees are all about too, that’s why we’re all here.  To beat these guys from the start.”

I, thought about the incident repeatedly during the game.  It was a game in which one had a lot of time to think about things (such as, will anyone ever hit one of Cliff Lee’s pitches?)

I really do like the Yankees.  Despite their ridiculous pay scale.  But when you go to the new stadium, when you sit in a large crowd many of whom have paid hundreds of dollars for this ticket (and have a season of them) , beneath the bright lights, in the freezing cold,  surrounded by $10 special hot chocolate cups,  $8 beers, and small private suites which have crowded full bars, big TVs and a real Las Vegas feel, you become conscious of a few things which are both obvious and, to me, unpleasant;  (i) sports is a big, greedy,  business; (ii) the players are highly-paid, highly-skilled entertainers, and (iii) many fans, particularly now that the prices have gotten so high, are demanding consumers, some of whom look to the highly-paid, highly-skilled players to act out their own (slightly impotent) macho instincts.

You can’t blame the players for the business aspect, and you really can’t blame them for taking advantage of the big bucks.  Many of them grew up in poor or working class families and have worked incredibly hard to hone their skills.  (Mariano Rivera apparently practiced pitching rocks as a child.)   In fact, it’s amazing to me that so many players are so genuinely devoted to the game, so genuinely excited by their victories, so seemingly tolerant of their team members.

You can’t blame the fans (or at least some of them) for acting like consumers, getting irritated not just when their team is losing, but because the show is not up to the high admission price.

But because the amounts of money involved are so large, something  has gotten very out of whack.  And strangely enough, it almost makes the TV experience feel like the truer sport experience, simply because the audience there hasn’t paid hundreds of dollars for its seat and doesn’t have to look at signs that say things like “Make Noise,” and “Win It For the Boss” (meaning George Steinbrenner.)

The game can also be watched on TV even by those folks getting off in the Bronx, before the stadium is reached.

Late (Subway Blog)

October 6, 2009

Late late late.  What is it that makes some people (i.e. me) almost inevitably so?

It can’t be enjoyment of that sick feeling in my stomach, the itchy anxiety that runs up the inside of my arms, the vacuum roar in my throat.

I jump on the first train I come to, an E, even though it doesn’t go exactly to the stop I need.   Then, at the next stop, a C—a C!— a local, but also the train that will stop at my station— pulls up across the platform.

I dash across.  I make it through the old grey doors.  I even get a seat.

As the E speeds off on the other track, the conductor of my C tells us that the train is being held in the station.   We wait.  He tells us again, just in case we don’t realize that we are standing stock still.  The vacuum roar spreads from my throat to my solar plexus; despair fills my core.  My little bit of lateness will now be a lot of lateness, and it is all my fault.  Stupid stupid C.

The train finally begins to move, but slowly, jerkily, like a Conestoga wagon over a rutted ditch.  The scene is somewhat different from the classic Western, however, due to the blackness outside the train and the gloomy fluorescence within.  What I should say is that the train moves like a Conestoga wagon somehow transplanted into a cheap diner at 2 a.m.

I feel horrible.  Yet, the despair caused by lateness is something with which I am well familiar.  Why?

1.         I tell myself it’s because I am busy.  (But most people in this city are busy.)

2.         I tell myself it’s because I can’t refrain from certain morning conversations, which, though irrelevant to the specific tasks of the day, are necessarily required for the construction of a “self” to get through these tasks.   This doesn’t seem a good reason either since a certain share of these conversations are arguments, which (I hope) are not actually the building blocks of that sense of self.  (I try not to wonder about that.)

3.         I tell myself it’s because I don’t much like waiting.  As a child of another overly busy woman who spent time in conversations aimed at bolstering the self in order to get through hard days, I did a fair amount of waiting when I was little.   (The only problem with that reason is that  I’m generally gleeful when early.)

4.         Perfectionism?   (Maybe.  I do tend to sweep my living room just when I should walk out the door.)

5.         Reluctance?  (On certain work days, possibly.)

6.        A need for specialness?  A desire to prove that I’m lucky, blessed with extraordinary gifts of good fortune, such as clocks stopping, trains taking wing?  (Hmmm…..)

Finally (finally), we pull into 42nd Street which is the station where I would have had to switch from the so much faster E, had I stayed on.  The platform is crowded.


If you are a New Yorker, you understand the reason behind that “ah”.

If you’re not:  the full platform means that no other C has pulled up here recently;  that, even if I’d stayed on the grass-is-always-greener other train (the E, or even if I’d jumped the express, the A), I would not have caught up to a C train before the one I am sitting on.

Which means that I have, today, taken the very quickest combination of trains available on the New York City subway system.


I run when I get off, feeling blessed.

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

September 23, 2009

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.

Morning Subway Blog

September 23, 2009

Man opposite me on the train this morning wears denim overalls which half-cover a chartreuse t-shirt.  He is a powerful looking man, despite the fact that his bull-like chest is now both chartreuse and bibbed. Thick arms, both right and left, both inner and outer, are covered with tattoos.  One features a large, grinning, skull that wears a Valkyrie-type helmet.

As I look at these arms, I understand, for the first time, the value of tattoos:  anyone with so many of them can wear bib overalls in New York City with complete impunity.

He is not a crazy man, meaning that his eyes don’t catch mine, not even once.  (See e.g. my post re Mondays and the strange attraction that mentally disturbed subwayriders seem to feel for my gaze.)

Drummers now set up a performance space between the subway poles.  They do block out the screeches of a child down the way, but only at the expense of a throbbing ache in the ear on their side.    Even so,  I contemplate putting change in the hat that’s passed—that child can reach an extraordinarily high pitch—only they move the hat too fast, quick to realize that no one in this car is much interested in paying for loud morning drumming.

As the train moves on, I catch my face in the opposite window of the car, and remember the comment of a friend yesterday who’d not seen me for some time.  I’d put on a little weight, she said, that showed especially in my face.

Oh yes, she also said it looked good.

Oh yes…

Cringing, I look quickly for anything other than the mirror-like blackness of that window.  Surely there’s someone nutty whose eyes I can work on avoiding.  This is the IRT.

Monday – Ten Signs That Yours Has Been Stressful

September 21, 2009

Monday – Ten Signs that Yours Has Been Stressful

1.         You have gone through four sticks of gum;  three that you just put in your mouth on the subway platform, one that you actually chewed earlier in your office.  Your office!

2.         Your eyes keep catching the eyes of the crazy muttering man sitting opposite you on the train–swollen, hooded, troubled eyes.  Even when you finally just shut your eyes, pretending to sleep, you can’t help peeking to see if he buys your little charade.  He doesn’t.   (Maybe it’s all the gum-chewing.)

3.         You begin to deconstruct Twilight in your head.   (“Deconstruct as in Harold Bloom and Jacques Derrida.)   You focus, for example, on the fact that “Bella Swan” must be named for (a) Belle, as in La Belle et La Bête (Beauty and the Beast), and (b) the Ugly Duckling.   And Edward Cullen is a combination of….. (a) Edward Scissorhands (you guess, not having actually seen the movie), and (b) cull as in the culling a herd, as in Edward in his vigilante days.   Then you actually begin to wonder about the symbolism of Jacob being a wolf.  But wasn’t Esau, Jacob’s brother, the “hairy man”…?

4.         The train stops for a long time in the tunnel.  Your jaw is getting seriously overextended. 

5.         When the conductor announces that the delay is due to a sick customer, you are genuinely relieved that the sick customer is not you.

6.         You really do not chew gum, you never chew gum.

7.         You step off the train onto a platform where a man sings the Flight of the Bumblebee in falsetto.  You are very glad that you will not be sitting opposite this man.

8.         All thoughts of blogging about political, social, artistic or poetic issues fly from your head and you wonder whether you couldn’t just post a picture of your cute little dog instead.  (You realize sadly that you don’t have a picture scanned.)

9.         Before taking that same cute little dog out for a walk, you hurriedly eat several slices of a kind of cheese you don’t much care for.  In an effort to assuage displaced guilt, you tear off some of every slice to give to the dog.

10.       When you finally take the dog out, you stop for a moment on the patio of a restaurant behind your building.  The restaurant has recently started playing elevator music, and before you realize what you are doing, your hips begin to twitch in time with the beat.

Agh!  You hate elevator music.  Worse than chewing gum!


Feeling that all is surely lost—what’s happening to you?–you look out over the horizon.  The sky above the river is blue and pink and orange, the river below the sky is blue and blue and blue, a crescent of moon barely gleams through the spectrum like the most beautiful distinction possible, your dog’s eyes (you are carrying your dog through the restaurant patio) stare up at you in gratitude.   (Possibly for all the cheese.)

In less than a second, your hips let go of even the memory of those untoward twitches, and you walk straight and true out of range of the muzak, your forehead unwinding, your chest sighing, your tense jaw beginning, at last, to find peace.

Check out 1 Mississippi above for more about the peace of rivers.

Subway Blog – Autopilot

August 27, 2009

Late late late.  In this case for someone who has come to a meeting at my office forty minutes early and called me at home wondering where I am.  Not entirely my fault.  Still bad feelings coat stomach.  Pace platform.

Where I find that the expensive purse which I bought in a trance last night in a shop in Grand Central really is too big, too heavy, to be truly comfortable.    Yes, the price was slashed by 70%.  (The store has been closing for weeks, and was down to the wire.)  Even reduced, it is the most expensive purse I’ve ever bought, and I’m not even someone who cares about nice leather.  I’m vegetarian for God’s sake!

When finally on train, I sit across from a pale, but slightly red-faced, man who wears round tortoise shell glasses, a pin-stripe shirt, a careful, if curly comb-over, and thick suede hiking boots.  He  seems to be talking occasionally, gesticulating, not wildly, but in the mild considered way of someone wearing a headset, only we are on a moving train and his ears are clear.

I can’t stop myself from meeting his eyes repeatedly, though they have a slightly fishy blankness (mixed with intensity) which tells me I shouldn’t.

Late late late.  Why did I wash hair that was washed last night?   And then I had to rinse it repeatedly because I was hurrying so much I first started drying strands still sticky with shampoo.

Ate swiss muesli too (something which should never be eaten fast) with guzzling speed.

I regret that speedy muesli now as the train chugs along and I catch the eye again of the round-glassed, slightly muttering man who suddenly looks genuinely sad.  His expression makes me feel somehow sick again, beyond the lateness sickness and the muesli sickness;  I wonder what has happened to him.

Or maybe, I think suddenly, in my wishful vegetarian blogger way, he’s just reciting poetry to himself.  What with the round tortoise shell glasses.  He has an umbrella too, on his lap, one with a wooden handle which means it was probably not bought on the street in a storm.  It could be the umbrella of someone who recites poetry to themselves.

But his mutters do not have the consistency of line for poems.  And, in addition, to the flickers of sadness, there is a strong cast of resentment around his mouth.  The only poet I can think of at that moment who is resentful is Bob Dylan, and the guy across from me is definitely not singing.    Though he does flick his fingers repeatedly.  Still, no.

Oh-oh.  I think he just said “swine”.  Twice.

I try to look away.

But the autopilot mania of my lateness, my prospective workday, my morning fatigue, and the rushed muesli, makes it really hard.

I force my eyes to the hand resting on the round purple tummy of the girl right next to me, pregnant, ruffly-bloused, whose long-lashed eyes are closed.  I strive for a bit of her calm.

But striving and calm don’t mix all that well, and the guy across from me says something a bit louder now, over the sound of the train tracks.  I look up;  this time he stares right at me.

Oh the New York City subway system.

Now we stop.  Train traffic ahead.

Right next to my guy sits a blonde woman writing hurriedly on a pad with lots of pastel pages.  She seems happy, animated;  her ears do wear earphones, she sometimes twitches with rhythm, energy.  I wonder immediately if she’s writing a blog and imagine it to be a funny one. .

Then my guy, the one I’m trying not to look at it, suddenly punches the air, each elbow at a sharp right angle, as he hits the space before him.

No one else seems to notice.  And I force myself to look away.  Punching’s a bit much.  Stare instead at the black-bordered screen of the guy beside me.  He watches it intently, his thumbs on dials.  It looks like there is a animated woman in a noose on the screen.

When I get off, I walk fast.

(The above post is part of a continuing series about stress.  See e.g. “From Rat Race to Rat Rut” and any post mentioning Robert Pattinson.)

If you want something unstressful to read to kids on subway, check out 1 Mississippi, (Karin Gustafson) at link above, or on Amazon.

Hypocrisy/Stress – A Sticky Wicket

August 24, 2009

Lately, I chew gum on my subway home.  I believe/hope this is mainly a sign of stress.  (See e.g. post “From Rat Race to Rat Rut” about the increased formation of repetitive habits under pressure.)

It is also probably a sign of hunger.  Prices and choices in midtown Manhattan lead to frequently skipped lunches.  Even custom-made salads begin to taste like vinaigretted plastic (plus chickpeas) with enough repetition.   (Although, frankly, this dullness in the lunch area may be another sign of stress, i.e. the shrinking of that part of my brain devoted to executive decision-making,  or, in other words, my work-induced inability to risk blue cheese.)

On the one hand, the chewing is horrible:  it looks completely dumb and makes my jaw ache.  And the taste (like the wonder of many new-found delights) soon dissipates no matter how much I stuff in.

On the other hand, it also feels kind of good.  As I chew (rapidly and with some determination), my wait on the humid, griddle-like platform seems somehow more under control.   My chewing may not make the train come faster, but at least it makes me feel more purposeful.  Or at least it makes my mouth feel purposeful.    Purposeful and silent.    (A benefit, perhaps, if you consider gum chewing preferable to babbling.)

The problem is that, while I have an instinctual distrust of babbling, I was actually trained to hate gum chewing.  This training, however, seems to allow me to chew with great heartiness.   Because, given the voices in my head, I simply can’t see myself as a gum chewer.   No matter how many sticks  (that is, squares)  I jam in.   (At least three or four at once)

I also know I’d never chew gum because of my paranoia of whatever makes it sweet.  I’ve spent a lifetime trying to keep (i) sugar away from teeth and (ii) fake sugar away from my internal organs.

(Chomp chomp.)

I’m so confident in my non-gum chewing, in fact,  that lately I buy a new pack almost every other day.

Even though it’s the kind of thing I never touch.