the cardboard cut-outs

Here in Chinatown, at 7:36am, the cardboard cutouts still sleep with the rest of their lives scattered beside them. When they sleep, they are still awake, with fingers webbed around their belongings.

I lock up my bike and wish I had something to offer them. More than just a handful of nuts and dried cranberries or one-fourth of a granola bar, from yesterday. More than just a look of acknowledgment (which so often translates as pity). More than just a pile of pennies or coins not quite enough to make a difference.

Later, a cardboard cutout smiles at me and I give him one back. He counts my teeth and notices my scratched body. I notice the bruises staining his face.

He calls this, “A good day.” And I replay his voice in my mind because suddenly I am unsure if he asked, “A good day?” or was telling me, “A good day!”

I want to tell him that it’s good because we are in it. Or it’s good because we are halfway done with it. Or it’s good because we both seem to be breathing and sometimes that is the biggest accomplishment of a day.


why (do) we walk away

It is late. The inside of my mouth is tired. I wait for the 6 train at the Broadway/Lafayette stop on a Thursday. My body feels like it is holding onto too many things; I agree.

The train arrives and I watch a crowd of people get off.

This is an active station, I think to myself.

I don’t question why so many people are getting off; I just feel immediate gratitude that there will definitely be a place for me to sit after a long, long day of standing.

I get on and notice I am one of four people. I inhale. This is a part of living in New York City. We are surrounded by smells, which often chase people off trains or toward the other side of the street. When I moved away for three and a half years, I missed these smells. Now, I realize I have become one of the many who bolt.

I look to my right and immediately notice a human who I’ve seen before. He is large is every direction. Even his hair is looming. He wears a makeshift cloak and has bundles of hair on his face. Like a tantrum of fur. He is not wearing shoes and he is speaking to himself. This last fact is no longer strange since so many people wear contraptions in their ears and are singing along or talking to the noise. However, he didn’t appear to be wearing anything.

There were no smells. He was just a human without feet protection trying to get somewhere.

If this were fiction, I might write that I sat beside him and asked him how he spent his day. If he was hungry? Would he like the rest of my cantaloupe that I got from the farmers market yesterday. I’d tell him it’s so ripe that it will melt in your mouth, so let it slide down. Maybe we’d laugh about how slippery it is, as though each piece was trying to escape our mouths. Maybe I’d tell him how cool all his facial hair is and he’d compliment me on my tie.

The thing is, this is non-fiction. So, I have to be honest and say that his presence scared me a little. At one point, he started banging his feet against the subway floor and bellowing. His hairy face made him appear like a lion. He wasn’t saying anything mean or even translatable; yet I felt like I needed to move.

At the first stop, I got off and switched trains. I watched two other people follow and switch. When I sat down, I noticed a human laughing with his friend and pointing to the other train car. Whispering about this other.

I realized I was no better than this person making fun of another. I walked away and abandoned this person just because he was loud. Just because he was using his feet to create sound. Later on when I switched trains to the 4, I spent the rest of my ride with an extremely loud proselytizer. He was far more scary, reminding everyone on the train who was waiting for us if we made the wrong decisions. 666, he kept saying.

That man with the roar on the 6 train was simply existing. He did not smell, yet even if he did, I know I’ve had days where the heat caused my skin to haunt unpleasantly through its aroma. Social class does not always relate to our scents, nor does kindness or mental state.

That man with no shoes on the 6 train was a six year old once. Maybe he was great at math and had a best friend he climbed trees with. Maybe he was married once. Maybe he is kind.

Why do we walk away so quickly from those who look different than us?

Real fear is real. If he was calling out hate or clutching on to a weapon, then he should be abandoned. But that man with a lion’s roar on the 6 train was just trying to get somewhere. He was harming no one. Perhaps that howl was his way of saying hello.

I will never know.

courtesy of sadness

In the city, which never sleeps, it is difficult to find a napping New Yorker. Even on the subway, there are restless multi-taskers swiping away at their ipads and cell phones. Some balance laptops on laps, while others can be found with a thick pile of papers atop their thighs to prepare for an array of early morning meetings. New Yorkers are always busy and because of this preoccupation with always doing something, they tend to forget to notice what exists around them.

Underground, we seek out seats and balance the weight of gym bag and yoga mat and briefcase and backpack and pocketbooks the size of small suitcases. There are rare moments when the doors open and you have many seats to choose from. During peak hours (and in New York, all hours are peak), you must shimmy your way in and do your best not to let you hands wander; humans get very, very close underground.

Amidst this overcrowded chaos, there are moments where humanity exists in the most symphonic way. Look to your left and you may catch the little girl around 4 or 5 years old singing nursery rhymes to herself as her mom or guardian looks on. A guy at the end of the train seems to have forgotten that he is not in his bathroom, as he lifts bare feet up and begins clipping his toenails. I seem to be the only one in fear of a flyaway piece of hardened keratin. A female nuzzles with her lover: another young woman with a tattoo of a dragon on her forearm. Many act as though they cannot be seen and this is when we can catch bits of uncensored New Yorker emotion.

This is what I look for.

This is what reminds me that although we go home to different sized apartments (some have no home to go to) or engage in lifestyles of varied monetary styles, we are all here on this train together. Religion, race, economic background, or educational history do not matter.

The cover charge is the same for everyone: $2.50 per ride. As I look, I take out my red notebook and begin to write what I see.


It is impossible not to notice the color of May sky on her fingernails. Blue unlike turquoise or swimming pool or deserted-island ocean. Blue like the color of sadness. And she was crying. This young woman, perhaps around twenty-four or younger, had drops of salt falling from her eyes, brown like dug up earth. I sat across from her on the 3 train heading back into Brooklyn on a Sunday. It was early and it seemed like she may have been wearing last night’s attire: carefully ripped stockings, short black skirt that was neither leather nor linen. Cotton spandex mix? Her shirt was also black—true New York fashion derived from the allure of midnight: dark and slimming. Her hair was tossed up into a high pony tail/bun combination. I couldn’t stop staring.

Sometimes I really believe I am invisible as I travel underground from one borough to another. Brooklyn into Manhattan or Queens to the Bronx. Strangers stuck in a train with windows, which do not open. We involve ourselves in technological distractions: the latest popular downloaded game on fancy cell phone; rapper-endorsed headphones over ears blasting shuffled music; travel-sized electronic books. Some sleep. Some sneak sips of beer hidden inside brown paper bag. I have seen mothers nurse their babies and change diapers. I have seen fancy-suited proselytizers. I have seen guardians hit their kids. I have seen the beginnings of sex, heavy petting and deep-rooted foreplay. There has been vomit and piss and spilled meals and grime and rain all staining the floors and seats of these trains.

On this particular Sunday, I want to offer this young person a tissue. I want to climb in the empty orange seat next to her and hold her painted fingers as we sit in silence. I want to ask her what happened. I look around and wonder if anyone else notices what I am noticing or if they are stuck inside the NY code of contact to ignore, ignore, ignore.

Some occurrences on the subway elicit a response. Whenever God is mentioned, there is someone else on the train ready to retaliate. A man screams at his girlfriend and several people get involved to protect. A kid screams his/her way into a deafening tantrum and everyone rolls their eyes at once. But sadness tends to induce complete disregard. Perhaps it is so elevated in ourselves that it is too difficult to notice it in others. So, when this girl cries into her hands, she becomes deeply ignored. All eyes look away, except mine.

There are many rites of passage as a NYC subway rider. The top three that tend to eventually baptize commuters into “true New Yorkers” are: falling asleep and missing your stop, vomiting on the subway and crying while underground. I have reached all three and some more than once.

We tend to notice what we want to notice. Or sometimes we see what we want others to see in us. I notice the sad. When I am stuck on a train full of laughter, my eyes will gather steam from the couple at the far end who are nodding off, track marks on exposed forearms and twitching with each stop. Maybe I feel the need to notice the forgotten humans—the ones cast aside because they look crumpled or lost. The ones who smell. The ones disconnected through distracting electronica.

This particular woman still has the stain of Saturday’s lipstick on lips. I can tell it is from yesterday because it is darkest on the ends and far more faint throughout the rest of her mouth. I watch her take out cell phone and rub finger along screen. She is scrolling up and down, reading something. I imagine her reading text messages from whoever or whatever she came from. Perhaps she is reading something that birthed these tears. A text-messaged break-up? Her lips move as she silently reads from the screen. Her forehead squints into furrows. Her tears stop and now she looks angry. What is happening? She looks up and notices me noticing her. I look down because maintaining eye contact with this beautifully sad woman is far too intimate for me at this time of the day. I prefer being unnoticed or maybe I just enjoy having control over this noticing. It makes me wonder if anyone is noticing me.


How to UNapologize

Where do apologies derive from? Blame Plato for Socrate’s admittance.

Is it really a justification? An entrance toward human error? A plea. An alibi. A reveal of regret.

A man bumps into me as I make an attempt to gracefully exit the 3 train.
A man bumps into me.
I apologize.

A lover tells me about the passing of an uncle.
I apologize.

A woman knocks against my bones on the street.
I apologize.

Throughout a day, we apologize numerous times and I wonder how many of them are actually worthy of their elocution. What can we replace these sorry’s with? A gesture? A universal grunt? A widening of eyes and tilt of mouth?

It was not my fault you bumped into me. I exist. Am I apologizing for my existence?
I did not remove the final breath from your uncle’s body. What else is there to say when someone leaves this earth?

We even apologize for our pasts when, oftentimes, they make us better humans.

I desperately need to unapologize because there are times when I really am sorry. When I need to utter those words that we have masticated and spit into too many ears. We’ve removed the potency, so I am taking it back.

I am not sorry that it is rush hour and high heels click like monsters against cement toward an already packed subway train and there are few spaces free of bodies. I am not sorry that you have no place to put your hands so you must lean against a metal pole or brush up against another nine-to-fiver.

I am not sorry about my promiscuity. It led me closer to recognizing what I like/what I need/what stirs me. I am not sorry for my previous occupation that split me into two minds and bodies. Professor called middle-aged-white-m told me to stop writing about my body so much. Move on. Can’t I just write about something else?

I will no longer apologize for writing about the body so much. We write what needs to get out. There are numerous translations and lost languages swallowed inside our blood. I will not apologize for my languages.

I am not sorry for being a different kind of queer.

I am not sorry for losing trust in humanity. I’ve grown accustomed to the callus formed against my heart.

I am not sorry for walking outside your politics and creating my own.

I am not sorry about falsifying the color of my hair. The roots were always made from flames, but I needed to make them louder. Sometimes we need to change things to make them closer to how we feel them to be.

I am not sorry for needing to be alone so much. Loneliness can be just as thought-provoking and I can leave anytime I need to.

I will not apologize for my scars. They are zipped into me. If they make you uncomfortable, maybe you need to address the disfiguration attached to you. They are my hieroglyphics. They are the map that follows me everywhere. No, they were not an “art project”. And no, you may not touch them unless I give you permission.

I am not sorry for losing you as a friend. Friendship should be like water: easily drifting toward and away…floating…diving in and gargling with existence.

I am not sorry for breaking up with you. It led me to the one who brought me poems and body experiments. Who led me to the one full of traumatic adventures and grease-stained kisses. Who led me to the one who salted my wounds. Who led me who led me who led me.

Apology is just a noun. An admittance of failure, most of which we had no part in. Save your apologies for the moments that really matter; for the times when it needs to spoken. You will know when it must be pulled out of crumbled pocket, ironed out and spoken:
I’m sorry.

a loot of land (mass/ive)

What has happened?

The clouds are resembling humans today, growling in the sky, pushing and intimidating their way across the rooftop of earth.

There is desperation to get out of here, move from one borough to another, leave darkened homes for well-lit ones. Buses are combusting. Limbs are punching others in order for a seat.

So, you made it over the Manhattan Bridge, but you are bleeding now and hurt another whose name you never learned and what’s the rush?

So, you swept up the shelves with your greedy hands and stole a bottle of pills to quiet the hurricane of rust inside your body and now you hoard the capsules like secret passwords and maybe you’ll sell each one or will you swallow and does it matter how you broke your way in?

So, you want to help restore the mass of overthrown buildings and buried car parts, then deliver your blood/ then deliver your excess/ your collection of sneakers/ your heavy coats/ your time/ your time/ there is so much time now…

So, the oil has spilled once again and Staten Island is crying and Staten Island is dying and 300,000 gallons swims over the humans washing ashore and who is to blame for this one?

I want to understand why we behave like monsters when weather pushes us the wrong way. Wind chokes away our luxuries, so we loot…so we loot…so we turn our bodies into hurricanes and we storm and we storm. Still, we consume. We consume. We binge on preservatives because we cannot go a day without eating. We photograph our suppers and brag about our living rooms. And we forget and we forget some people lost everything. Some people lost people. Some people are missing. Some of us are missing. But please tell me about your feast. We can forget about the homes, amputated. We can look past the woman swimming in the flood. We can forget about the woman who is mourning the loss of her greatest love. We can forget. We seem to be good at that.

you are made to leave but never do

When does a root first arrive and what is its blood type.
Speak on the unfairness of graves and governmental restrictions.
Who does this earth really belong to.
What hasn’t been noticed yet.
There is no freedom from war.
Horses were replaced by rubber and aluminum.
Is your music religious.
Pasts get lost unless they are hooked to leashes.
Birds may be painted but not fingernails or walls.
I used to be a lightening bug but now I am a neon smudge against suburban sidewalk.

I am singing for the first time and I do not need to be trapped beneath layers of conditioner and green tea soap on my body in the bathtub. I am sewing the seams of ripped poems and savoring the sound of new language from this decade merge with my younger self. Maybe I don’t need that stage to tell you what I’m like. Want to gather up this mess? Bring a flare gun, some candles, a map of your favorite place to dream about, bring some tea, lemon cake and a blanket. I’ll supply the moon and my mouth.

musical interlude interruption

What is the instrumentation of smoke?

A wince of nose curls against the aroma/ drunk man ashes against lap/ there is sadness found in his almost-inflamed thighs.

Music wraps itself around me as the sun grows stifled by a rainstorm. The sky is sniffling. I offer it a giant handkerchief, which it declines.

Everyone’s body looks different here. Though many wear the same costume of designer rain boots, short short shorts and tank top, fabrics lay differently on the wide array of stretched out skin.

I notice these things while at a semi-local outdoor music concert set against the backdrop of water, bordering New York City and New Jersey.

As an explosion of live folk music fills the air, I’m mesmerized by humans.

How amazing to watch a body respond to sound.

Two young men begin to curve spines, wave their hands up and shake in a way comparable to a religious zelot quivering from god’s language.

I cannot help but smile when I watch a young couple kissing uncontrollably, dancing with their mouths and tongues.

A beautiful woman in ponytail and rolled up jeans, hops on each ankle, snaps fingers and I fall in love with her lack of concern and self-conscious hesitation.

I want to breathe in
I want to breathe in the odor of bodies sweating.

I wouldn’t mind inhaling the food trucks nearby selling grilled cheese sandwiches and tacos.

I’d like to smell the ocean, all salty and pungent.

Instead, I smell cigarettes.

I count the rings of smoke landing on unsuspecting heads like cancerous halos.

I can no longer hear the music when a man sits beside me, wearing a drunk slurred stare. I watch him awkwardly light his cigarette, then forget it’s there as ashes drip on his pants. He becomes a human ashtray and I wonder where his friends are. Or, is he with a partner and where is s/he? I forget to hear the music because the sound of his inebriation competes with the bass and forcefully strummed guitars.

When he leaves, I fall back inside the music. The narrative of love and resuscitation. A collision of stories.

What happens past the interlude of humanity.