I feel that poetry is better read by the author. In that vein, I have made a recording of my reading my most recent piece.
Say forty preganant women walk onto an empty subway car.
The train swells in the breath of the open doors.
There are clearly not enough seats for everyone.
How is it decided who stands?
These women are coming from somewhere
– a baby convention –
and they’re already familiar with each others presence.
Ten women must stand.
These ten ogle and critique,
lower their brows in discontent.
They actively judge one another, weighing virtues
Should the women carrying twins get an automatic seat?
Does the overweight woman, 8 1/2 months pregnant,
warrant the two seats she fills?
Or have her poor long-term choices,
ostracized her from the pool?
Does the daughter of the senator
deserve to sit,
or does her fathers well-publicized extortion conviction,
exclude her from the others?
How much are the children truly their parents?
Where do we mark?
Where we do we stop listening?
How do we fit our shapes into the offered structure,
all before the next stop?
Say a group of fifteen senior citizens now board.
They are all septuagenarians, coming from their own convention.
– it was called “Aging with Dignity” –
they’re mostly women.
None of the pregnant women leave the train.
What does this new presence warrant?
Where is the line drawn in the mass transit marginalized?
The socially vulnerable, that must be treated as such,
the cool soothing prerecorded voice of an MTA agent
reminding us to offer our seats
to the pregnant, elderly and disabled.
But whose to say in what order?
What if one of the septuagenarians was deaf and shoeless?
What if one of the septuagenarians
– through the marvels of the giggle wrestling
between nature and science –
was also pregnant?
Do the pregnant yield?
Is their need greater, for they carry at least two lives?
Do the senior citizens fumble and glare and murmur,
through pruned lips and thick glasses,
carrying canes and liver spots, wearing old-timey hats,
the tensity of the crowd
the rumble of the deservant energy
of fear and survival,
“you should allow me your seat young lady,
I shouldn’t have to ask.”
Say twelve disabled people board this train.
not coming from their own convention –
though these spontaneous, unorchestrated mobs,
are undeniably like conventions –
and as they hobble or trudge or sprint onto the train,
falling over because no one has the frame of mind
to direct them to hold the rail,
others too busy focusing their harnessed energy
on convincing someone to offer a seat,
just through a stare.
Does the doe-eyed brunette,
not even sure if she’s pregnant,
but who is ready to be,
does this woman offer the one-armed myopic her seat?
Should she offer it to the old women sputtering from standing too long?
Should she exit the train altogether at the next stop,
hustling away, looking down, holding her breath,
letting the empty seat sort it self away?
Falling through seamless through the frame.
Or instead of acting,
does she simply sit and think about what she should do?
Looking, gathering, collating, ordering,
Mounting thoughts snapping like camera shutters
What if the seated few are reading a magazine,
pretending to be too caught up to notice the drooling catatonic
with the bruises on their forehead,
or what if a seated someone is struck under that sliding subway daze?
When does the mental register cling
and it becomes time to recognize your surroundings?
What if the seats become a bitter suggestion,
not demanded or struck in a tone-seeded-argument,
more like an open fist waiting expectant for the margin allowance.
These people, subjugated to this particular bus by indirect force,
with men pointing to the particular train at the station,
the pregnant wheelchair bound veteran transsexual,
who already has a seat, in a sense
what do we do if you don’t sort,
you don’t fit any definition
ones either strict as a whore
or loose as a nun
that you are not one thing
but a collection of many one things,
a pastel, a collage, a frame within a frame,
a wheel within a wheel,
as someone once said,
not a single riding rail going back and forth,
you are unique and complicated,
just like everyone else,
unscheduled, flailing, collapsing, unstable,
not passing easy through a sieve,
not passing easy between this station
and the next beep before the next announcement
before the next shuffle and the next stares
between this and every stop.