It was a day unlike Sunday, but it was Thursday. Everyone’s knees gathered the fumes of dandelions and coughed-up dreams. There was an unspoken incantation in the air because no one was blinking. Eyes did not grow dry nor weak from remaining open; instead, nothing was missed. Everything was seen– from the foil-tipped wings of a dove flying nearby to the drip of supper sauce in the corner of a pigeon’s mouth. The humans saw the weather shift from cold to colder. Hands held other hands, instead of handheld contraptions. Love was contagious because it was noticed; it was felt. There were roses popping up like blades of grass. Various sized petals and colors like ocean’s blue and sunflower yellow. The humans left the flowers alone, but watched them. Watched them get bigger or smaller or wilt or go wild. One human picked one. A flower which had yet to be named. It was not scientific, nor was it invited. But it smelled of two a.m. wake-up from current lover when pressed between fingers. It smelled of wheat grass and cloud juice. It remained alive long enough to last until eyes finally grew dehydrated and forced itself into a blink. Then, the open-close rotation continued and repeated until suddenly things went missing. Flowers became blurs of color and animals roamed without any more mention. It was just a day.
There is such a thing as a cloud forest. Beneath the fog of traveled tropics, there are so many branches that when feet get too tired of standing, one can swing from the skinny roots dangling from heights too high to climb. Leaves catch the drip of moisture and one can easily swim inside this meditation of wet. The ground is hairy. Carpet of flowerless green. Or moss. Or earthy currency, which can easily buy you a meal of nourished oxygen. The clouds run marathons in the sky. Call them yungas or laurisilva or afromontane or poema.
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.
We made love while on opposite sides of third floor Brooklyn. A slug on your left wrist and my gaze stuck on the story of dark pink interruption on your bright white skin. I spit three ounces of gender into your mouth while your right leg wrapped around my long day. You have no name; I have no emotions. We are greyred margins marked-up rewrites. Denim and laces surround us. A dancer slips whiskey between my palms and reminds me what I need. I feel slurred when I reach empty and cannot help to wonder if I am here to fall in love again. No one knows the directions to lost but if I can just remain here for five more minutes, I may find that detour.
Much of it begins out of something else. You read it; you noticed it on a Tuesday stuck inside that book everyone has been telling you to pick up. You captured it inside the fist of your pupil, punching the air with that dust-collecting stare.
It started like a dribble of compare.
He spoke it in his language, which was yours until they frightened it out of you.
In order to go on, turn body into the only carnival ride you could commit to. Like carved-out pills or shy spaceships, they call it tilt-a-whirl. Shake out your biology, your apologies, the startled cause of your sick.
Forget the fur and wool, step into plaster and caulk. You may only be kissed when the wind storms away the layers of your lips from the past seven years.
It’s not that you’re ugly. You just don’t have enough symmetry to warrant air-brushing and notice. Take travel-sized sewing kit to the death in you and seam-rip it away.
It is early enough in the morning to assume that you are the only one awake. The sun may be out, but it still yawns with morning breath wafting against clouds, pushing them toward their daily mile. You are three quarters asleep, but alert enough to notice the sound of a bird, red like the tint of your hair, crashing toward the nearby window. Its beak is resilient, or it must be since it plunges against the glass once more. And then again. And again after that. You are stunned at its punishment or is this a ritual of a new day arriving. Does it want to come in? Does it want to get out? There is something to be said about the persistence of its pounding.
My bicycle used to remain indoors, but for the past year and a half it has been locked against the same sign post and its metal skin has changed from black to rust. It is the only thing I straddle these days, but it brings me joy and gets me to where I need to be much faster. My bike and I are philosophically entangled with the wind; I blink musical notes with each turn to alert the other shapes where I am going. A young boy on a bike tells me my back tire needs air and I feel such gratitude that he noticed this. If only we could pay closer attention to humans because we so often run out of air or we choose to breathe less and there is something to be said about someone stopping to say: keep breathing because I am conscious that you’ve stopped.
How about the time your skin hurt from being next to her. The arrival of spots called hives– similar to bees hoarding honey– holding your chest captive for several hours. As a child, they take your temperature with strips that measure the heat. Or in your ear or with the back of a hand. But what happens when suddenly someone else’s bones beside you create a rise of sun and moon and mountain top and the pitch of the loudest yell. What happens when another person becomes a thermometer entering you, evolving your degrees from 97.9 to high above the hundreds. There is something to be said about kinetics and the pungency of emotion.
I see you with paper covering narrow face because too many people called you ugly and not enough humans called you invincible.
I see you crouched against bars like a jail called 14th street subway station with woman called mama and girl called sister and cardboard called megaphone for begging.
Here is an apple and I watch as you dig against the skin with your teeth, spit it out as though it is toxic. It’s OK to eat the flesh, I want to say, but instead I gather up your eating habits and wonder if you even eat enough to have habits.
I see you wearing enough raindrops to call yourself a puddle.
I see your arms covered in so many scars that your skin has become looseleaf, separate and removable.
I see your smile, curved downward and when you pass by accordionist wearing tattoos and blue hair, you want to notice her too. You want to thank her for playing Yann Tiersen as you cry into your palms. You want to ask her to follow you home and rub your back with each pressed note.