Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The sound of stone

Her brother has given her a stone from Nice.
She has it in her pocket. When she rubs it she
swears she can hear the ocean, the waves
colliding into the cobbled shore.
She is going there to return it.
Take the A to JFK,
then a Boeing 757 to Paris,
and finally the Euro rail to Nice,
but first, this downtown D local.
6:30, Saturday morning and it is as crowded
as it is on any given rush hour weekday.
And not because it is running local.
The 80+ in each car, every seat occupied
with shut-eyed strap hangers, are Uptown:
The Harlem Black, the Washington Heights
Dominican, the Bronx Boriqua and lesser
shades of brown from parts unknown.
She wonders how the stone will sound
when she rubs it in Nice. When the concierge
gives her a thick mat of a towel for the beach.

The train stops, inappropriate between stations,
She hears the sucking of teeth, disgust in 3
or more languages and feels their eyes find her:
Sunglasses riding above her forehead,
sweater draped over her shoulders,
Coach weekender at bend of elbow,
Swiss Army Pullman in hand.
An A express jettisons past the stalled D.
She watches, its cars nearly empty,
cleaner, and yes, whiter. Hopefully
she thinks, it will be waiting for her at 59th Street.
She seeks anonymity in her newspaper.

The hostages still suffering in an unwelcome world,
awaiting the shimmering release of another man's sword.
Yes, such a shame about the hostages, the suffering.
They go there to work, make money for their families
back home. They must have had targets taped
to their backs the moment they stepped on the tarmac.
The culture shock, coming from everything to somewhere so sparse.
And then the ungodly happens, capture.

The train jerks and ambles to the next local station.
She balances herself and her luggage to the silver pole.
Watches them, all of their eyes closed, guards down
under the meditation of the subway's motion.
She wants to read the prayers trickling out their lips,
learn the math of their struggle.

The train stops. Doors open. No one gets on.
She looks at the face of an older man.
His face, used to the stare of strangers, is like a mask.
A devil's mask. A wrinkled ruddy barman face.
His hair a thick greased back black. He wears a green
laborer's uniform, rests his bloated belly on his lap.
She looks at the plainness of the teenage girls slumped
beside each other at the paired window seats.
Their summers sandwiched in these air conditioned cars,
getting their beauty sleep between express stops.

In the sports section, the American Tennis pros are fuming about
the line judge and his botched calls at Wimbledon. They want his
head on a stick, and another shot at the tournament. Who remembers
the asterisk next to a champion's name. And who cares about those
who do. They don't write endorsement contracts.

The train jerks, rocks like an empty cradle and she bashes
into the silver pole again. She touches the scab she scraped
off a rough weekend at the Hamptons. Pets but does not pick.
She looks at the man to her left, sees his cell block
green tattoos ladder up his over sized sleeves.
Letters, numbers, symbols she cannot discern.
He is better off, she decides.

The D train makes it to 59th Street. Her A train long left.
She exits into the wave of heat from the platform leaving
nearly all of the passengers. When another A express
comes it will have 10 varied yet more familiar identities.
She will take one of the 70+ empty seats and finish her paper
on route to the airport. When she takes her seat on the plane
she will rub the stone her brother gave her and the ocean
will sound a lot like the D train.


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