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.


an island of magic

Nobody lives here. The houses are empty, although the grass is tidy. The porches are wide enough for baskers to lean against. There is music; there is poetry; there is enough food and enough generators and enough children here to remind us of who we used to be. People arrive on a ferry and there are dogs here and babies and overpriced ice-cream and kayaks. There is a composting center with goats and chickens and plenty of tools for the passersby to play with. There is miniature golf; there is a museum. There is a gift shop that accepts credit cards and traveler’s cheques; there are fathers and loners; there are enough families to remind those without how without they are. There is a playground and an arts & crafts center; there is a brothel; there is an outside pub; there is live music. There is water; there are benches. There is a carnival of French rides.

There is one hundred and seventy acres of land but nobody lives here.

And that man with a cane and discolored legs tells the other man with whitened beard and kind heart that this land is for people to wander in; there is enough housing on the other side of the island.

But there seems to be a forgotten mention of those without housing and those without family and those without enough paper in wallets or pockets to pay for food purchased off trucks for more money than is made for an hour of work.

Nobody lives here and yes this place feels magicalIt is vast and free and has the aroma of something made of patchwork’d memories. Maybe one day, they will unhinge the front doors and let people in who need permanent housing. Maybe one day, the ice cream here will cost less than $5 for five licks and a belly ache. Maybe one day, there will be more magical places such as this that encourage the wanderers to stay. We could all use a place to get lost in more often, don’t you think?


a tale of several beautifuls

Blame it on symmetry. How near are her eyes to carefully constructed bridge of nose. Does she starve. Are her hips like the horizon, without fault or curve. Is her skin more mocha than medium rare. What blooms in the months outside of spring or autumn and when the leaves go away, how sturdy are the branches. Does your grass wilt or does it arrive like green erections plunged out of earth’s pores. Blame it on what distracts us. Call it brushed air. Call it removed particles of mistake. Her smile is white and heterosexual. His hair is without recede. That home is window’d and gorgeous due to its skylights and built-in 401K plan. Does her cellulite show. Does your health plan cover the creams you will need to rub it away. What is your routine. How many chemicals have attempted to peel away your skin; I think you might be beautiful under that fifth layer. Keep ripping at yourself. Scoop out and where there is tunnel, there is possibility for better. Blame it on tents and drawers and the tenacity of lies. Collocate implant with imbalance. Remove your girdle now. Help the redheaded dancer with her zipper and linger your looks at the way she folds like love letters. Quietly ask if you can dance your language into the cleavage of her mind. And the other one with painted eyebrows, thicker than the remorse from your 20’s. She is beautiful too. And that graffiti’d church that might be a bank now or was but has become a collaborative celebration of dripped paint now. And her nipples. And that cloud that kind of looks like your best friend from tenth grade. And that fence, painted turquoise. And your neck. And that meal you fed me when my palms were too tired to lift and curl. And that Wednesday you fell asleep inside me. And that rooftop garden. And the smell of patchouli you snuck inside magazine. And your sodium. And my blood. And that too.

you are yellow like that dandelion

I think you’re okay with your dandelion yellow braids that measure in miles down your back and huddled over your shoulders. I tried not to let you notice me counting them so I lost track at thirty.

I think you’re okay because while your friends were judging another because her teeth are too crooked and her weave is wicked, you said:

Why do you have to be so mean?

And before you spoke, I watched your mouth. Your lips moving in and out, popping breaths, waiting for the right moment to cut them up with your question.

Weeks earlier, I was sitting across from two young girls on the 3 train and I could hear them whispering about me. Without letting them notice me notice them, I could hear bits and pieces of their judgements. My hair (kind of frizzy. weird color). My jacket (all ripped up). My face (ugly).

But you: yellow dandelion braids and large green sweater knitted past your knees…
you made an effort to question the need for meanness.

Why must we notice the stains in someone’s shirt before the vibrant color wrapped around that smudge?

Why must we focus on someone’s weight (too fat/ too thin) when we have no idea the history of their skin and bones and health and need to be or hesitance to be that way?

Why must we be so afraid of the man on the bus who screams out words when maybe this is the only time in his day when he feels listened to?

You with your yellow dandelion braids twisted into your scalp like a tapestry…
I will not judge you for pronouncing the “t” in listen, if you look beyond my crookedness and knotty, stained demeanor.

Because I also notice how eloquent you are.
And if you gave me just a moment, you might notice the same in me.

how to remove the claustrophobia and turn it into a poem.

Awake to the sound of too much memory inside me, clogging up the zippers sewed into my skin called scars.

Before sleep, I heard a child speak about beauty. How it cluttered up her mind and confused her into obsession. When I was a child I wore pants until they fell off of me–threads becoming undone. I couldn’t wait to wear make-up and then when I could I preferred looking ghostly or homely or colorful only on the inside.

People rarely remain inside their disfigurations. They cover it up, melt it, insert or take away or laser it off.

My roots are showing; let me paint them a lighter hue. My belly is thickening. Instead of poeming, I’ll sit up and down and up and down and crunch and crunch and force tension to form.

How to live inside a moment. Really. Do we do this anymore? Are we present inside a sight? Though I drink coffee, I am also writing a sentence and catching up with a friend and reading a letter and washing dishes. How to remove the claustrophobia of multi-tasked rushing and slow down toward just one breath or bite or swallow or word.


First thing I notice when I am present is the haunting of black ink on my skin on my hand on the left one near my thumb. Reminders because my mind is so webbed, is so crowded is so removed from itself, I must write on my body to remember how to live or what to buy or what to eat:

fennel. pickles. magnets. newspaper.

I look down and notice my lap, covered in borrowed brown writing blanket. I look up and notice nude tree outside my window, bark wrinkled like elephant skin. I look inside myself and feel hunger, body gathering breaths, pushing them out like invisible babies floating into the air. I gave birth to those inhales and exhales. They are mine! I do not answer phone which rings. I do not click on anything outside of this box. I am singular-tasking. I am present. I am here. I am I am slowing down.

Find meaning in life’s traffic jam


To your right is a woman behind a counter at a diner. She had her hair pulled up because it rained last night and today and she decided not to wash it until the sky turned dry again. She has an accent from Greece and her waist smells like grease from the hug she received from the man who delivers food to the upper west siders on his bicycle. A two-piece suited man arrives with briefcase and anger. I want to complain to the manager but let me tell it to you because I don’t want to be here any longer than I have to so here it is: I ordered a turkey sandwich and there was very little cranberry sauce I asked for cranberry sauce and the fries were too fried and too much was missing to call it a meal. I don’t know how you remain in business. And when he left, the woman’s polite smile turned into a squiggle like a scratched out word and this is when she meets your eye because your were staring observing and your smiles lit each other on fire.

The fire is like a wheel– all orangey red like the best kind of grapefruit– and it transports you to a church. You wipe off the soot and smell of campfire-burnt-flesh but it’s okay because you have enough skin to lose some sometimes. In this church are a mix of genders and the ones in between without a slot on applications or birth certificates and you notice the one wearing animal skin on his head like a hunter and around his shoulders and against his thighs. And this hunter is kind and believes in gun control but his friend wears a placard that says only cannibals eat animals so this hunter stays on the other side of the room where photographs are permitted. Later on, Hunter walks up to where the candles are lit and reads a poem about not wanting to be here but having to be here because sometimes you have to be somewhere to understand how you got there (breathe). And he drinks from a paper bag and then turns it upside down because maybe the floor felt thirst and how nice to consider the wood sometimes.

The wood has no teeth, but if it did it would stretch out its knots to reveal its gratitude. Wood can be anti-social sometimes and pull away from other wood but when it is shellacked in gratitude, it can notice the beauty in other forms like bench or porch or swing or staircase. You are crying because this is a memorial service and you haven’t attended enough of these to have control of your tears and one hits the wood and this is when the magic happens. Your salt twists into the fibrous planks and suddenly the scent of earth is so potent that the Hunter stops speaking and everyone turns around to look at you. Your tears are contagious. Their eyes grow soggy too and the wood is now drenched and pulling away from itself and the earth is visible in a way it never has been before. It is honest and imperfect because holes equal imperfection, right? Holes equate to something missing or maybe or maybe or maybe it means wholeness because in this moment everyone noticed each other and words swirled up over heads like a linguistic tornado and how beautiful and how beautiful. And this is meaning.