The National Poetry Review

Sara Wallace


Everything is unbearable
in this crowded subway car
worn to grey and grit—
the jolt every ten minutes
that crashes you into
the tall unwashed guy
sharing a pole with you,
the open can of fried chicken
greasing the air,
the oil of unknown origin
under your feet,
the unending dank blankness
outside the windows
where sometimes a passing train
shows a glimpse into another car,
heads bent like everyone’s
leaning into the same yoke.
You just want to be there.
Today your son, only 11,
said, what are you afraid of?
And you didn’t want to say
I am afraid for you
so you watched the falling leaves
white as dimes, the station sign
until he said, it’s ok,
sometimes I don’t like to talk about it either.
Maybe the point of the trip
is that everything beautiful is in your head.
So close to so many strangers,
we politely pretend to be sleeping
when they openly weep
or shout into their phones.
Standing next to them
when the train goes over the bridge
and the real light,
yellow and warm, floods in
and the river’s silver down there,
the skyscraper lights shimmering on,
the red winking helicopter’s tail light
trembling and still like a hummingbird,
no, like your breath when your son
looked at you which such understanding
then put on his headphones and turned away.
You pass red brick apartments,
some windows open and so close
you can see the hair on a man’s arm
as he smokes at his windowsill.
Then the plunge back underground,
into soot, the smell of sweat and metal.
Where is your station?

SARA WALLACE is the author of The Rival, which was selected for the 2015 Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize and published by the University of Utah Press. The same year her chapbook, Edge, was selected by The Center for Book Arts Poetry Chapbook Competition. Her poetry has appeared in such publications as Yale Review, Agni, Hanging Loose, Michigan Quarterly Review, Poetry Daily and others. A recent finalist for a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and the recipient of fellowships from the Virginia Center of the Creative Arts and the Millay Colony for the Arts, she currently teaches at New York University and lives in Brooklyn.

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