Subway (and other mass transit) poems

Metro Center

He always knew
his enemies
would not be able
to destroy him –

nor would
violence or disease
conspire to
take him out –

nor would he be
behind the wheel
when he crossed
the River Jordan –

one night he would
fall asleep, as usual,
and wake up
in Beulahland.

a luta continua…


Final day in Lisbon (September 5th)

Early bus ride to Marfa
self-guided tour through the Palace
lunch – frango no forno
librarian walk through the library
chat with the single restoration contractor
bus ride back to Lisbon

subway to Rossio
½ kilo Cape Verdean coffee
½ kilo Angolan coffee
tea from the Azores
postcards for next year’s poetryfest
rendez-vous at Martinho de Arcada

coffee and pastries with old friends
photo at Pessoa’s table
too tall Super Bok

the pen ran out of ink
about the same time that
the page ran out of space
on which to write
I wrote on the back
of a boarding pass

Haiku from Lisbon – September 5, 2014

things still remain –
wrapped up –
that want to be unwound –

words unexpressed,
thoughts never quite
exchanged –

and worlds unformed.

Poetry me
Poem me
Romance me

build me a poem
make poetry for me
make me your poem
Let me be the poem

let poetry be me
romance me

April 5, 2016

I am black and semi-retired. Though a country boy,
I live in a city that is not my home or hometown.
I hate its noises and the smell of machinery
on subway platforms that live deep in the bowels
of the underground. So I ride the bus. Because I found
my voice years ago I am not invisible, notwithstanding
my own delusions of invisibility. In a divisive political year
I vote both ways (maybe three ways, maybe four)
and dare anybody to tell me I am wrong. I took a long
walk today, south to Georgetown and west to Dupont
Circle and there is plenty of ink left in my fountain pen.
This might be stream of consciousness, and if I don’t
run out of gas, it might make it to a 14-line poem,
or it might shape shift itself into a short story.

August 7, 2017 #23

I take the long route home
at end of the day – more time
for reading on the subway

And I don’t rush for departing
trains – the next one is coming
and will be less crowded

August 11, 2017 #25

I am seeing objects
in rapid random motion
on my mind’s periphery

Items I never knew
existed, never even
gave a reality to

before they appeared.
the items must think I’m
ready to see them

August 11, 2017 #26

Rushing home today
and hoping someone
has uploaded today’s
episode of Eastenders
on youtube so we can
watch it and chat over dinner

July 25, 2017 ##24

People-watching on the Morning Commute

Just something in passing –
thinking about the poets among us.
Why do we record the daily events of our lives?

Are you back from your journey
to the Big Apple? I was the only
person on the subway this morning
without an umbrella. Am I in trouble?

There was a lady on the Orange Line,
sitting, sipping on a coffee drink
in one of those tall, clear, mobile bottles.
We rode together for three stops.
Low cut L.L. Bean rain shoes on her feet.

She touched her lips after a sip,
perhaps remembering a distant kiss.
An observation, not a judgment –
It’s something I have done before.
Because she also had a distant stare.


Last Friday of the Summer Sonnet

It’s Friday. The bean pie man hawks
his wares at Foggy Bottom after work.
We swap old wives’ tales about pie-making
as I pick up the coming week’s supply.

I forgot to charge my phone last night
Guess I’ll be untraceable on the grid
Until I log in to the matrix at work.

It’s Friday. At noon I hear the prayer call
from 4th Street, Bissau, Cairo, Baghdad,
Damascus. Quadraphonic stereo pronouncement
from places where I have lived and loved.

I know this commute by heart – can do it
in my sleep – a circumambulation
at an invisible, mythic black stone.

subway poem #1

all the commuters stare at their devices,
some have white wires falling from their ears –
playing games, shopping, sending texts,
reading e-mails, getting their instructions,
directions from the great almight-Tee –

for me it’s an easy commute from the Bottom –
four stops to Metro Center, one stop
to Chinatown – but still, I pull out a book
to read to pass the time – my god is older
and less compatible with the new technologies –

it’s a short breezy walk from Chinatown
to the alley where I work – I could take
the green line for one stop, or catch a bus
down 7th St., but what purpose would that serve?

subway poem #2

I took the bus home. It was cold & dark
(thank you, DST) & raining & the bus
approached the stop as I was headed
to the Green Line station. The driver
politely stopped in front of me.

Had planned to attend a colloquium
in Brookland. But the rain helped to change
my mind. Plus, Filomena told me she had
a pot of homemade chicken soup simmering
on the stove, calling my name.

A different group of commuters rides
the bus – older, less aggressive, less
noisy and there is no riding down deep
subterranean holes on metallic escalators

that hurt you when you slip and fall.
Not to mention all those acrid smells
from screeching brakes & grinding gears.

The bus only went as far as Farragut West.
Amazing, that guy. The first admiral.
“Damn the Torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”
Two subway stations named in his memory.
His statue stands tall in the square.

subway poem #3

Caught the Red line at NoMA after work –
sometimes on Wednesdays or Thursdays
I work with special collections at DCPL,
that’s DC Public Library for short,
temporarily housed at Penn Center in NoMA
(that’s North of Massachusetts Ave for short).

I read some Walt Whitman on the train
that puts me in a pleasant state of mind –
hypnotic, and I almost miss my stop
at the transfer point to the Blue, Orange
& Silver Line.

There could be worst things than the hustle
and bustle of commuting. Like these minstrel
shows – performing, dancing on the train platform –
dancing to the music. People are watching,
turning their heads to see as they walk by.
But why bother? It’s the same old minstrel
show. Why bend your neck to look? The dance
steps haven’t changed in 100, 200 years.

Not meaning to sound philosophic, but I worry
about my people, caught up in the same tricks
generation after generation, and doing the same
minstrel dance for white folks who are too
eager to be hypnotized. Oh well. The Orange line
train approaches, and I have more Leaves of Grass
to read before we reach the Bottom.

subway poem #4

It’s the Green line that goes east to Anacostia.
All the eastbound trains, though, pass through
L’Enfant Plaza, every line except the Red.
Anacostia is my spiritual home, you know,
both my endowment and my inheritance.

The bridge that crosses the Anacostia River
has always been a gate for me, an arch
straddling two dimensions, space and time,
a transition and a transformation affording access
to new hopes, new loves, and new opportunities.
East is the new frontier. Go East, young man!

The Orange line to New Carrollton was packed
this morning. I felt like a canned sardine.
But a large crowd got off at Farragut West –
must be lots of jobs and offices there.

It’s good to know. Sometime stanzas spill out
in strange order. We have to re-arrange
our rambling thoughts, take stock, get back on track.

subway poem #5

Fourteen lines is an approximation –
fewer lines, or more, may be sufficient.
But line length must be paid attention to.

It’s Veterans Day. I’m doing laundry
and checking what folks are talking about
on Facebook and Twitter – news of the day.

And the news is not good: a coup attempt
is underway in the home of the brave –
we’ve seen the play before but no one owns

the script. I’ll be riding no trains to work
for the rest of the weekend. My office
is closed and a couplet is all that’s left.

It took me all these years to figure out
I might be the spook who sat by the door.

subway poem #6

I learned to recite “In Flanders Fields”
from my dad, word for word and line for line
until I got it right. He’d recite his favorite
poems whenever he was self-medicated.

Pop saw action in Italy, the so-called
“Good War,” the integrated Army Air Corp,
its own small miracle for the time.
And so I’ll dedicate this subway poem
to his memory, keep the faith unbroken,
and let him sleep in peace.

Years later, before my own enlistment,
I came across Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est,”
and it shattered all my youthful illusions
about the glories of war. Later still,
I found James Shirley’s “Dirge,”
said to be Robert Frost’s favorite poem.
Owen must have read it as well, I’m sure.

This poem is about poems and father memories –
no subway trains run through it – and service
and sacrifice that sometimes goes unpaid.

Subway poem #7

There are no spirits lurking in the aisles
and corners. Just cartons of documents,
details of lives. Whether well-lived or ill,
these papers tell the story – marriage, birth,
land acquired, taxes. Death. It’s all there.
No need for the rattling sound of zombies –
ghosts of events yet to come – in graveyards.

Might this be the judgement we fear? The words
and deeds, archived records we leave behind
won’t deliver souls to any heaven –
or hell. It’s just a mirage, this image
of hereafter we’ve been trained to accept
as truth, the certain object of our faith:
dried, folded, faded, in a dusty box.

subway poem #8

I want to tell y’all about this amazing poem
I stumbled upon. I can’t stop reading it,
can’t stop listening to it being read
by its creator on the Poetry Foundation website.
It has quite addicted me to its charms.
It’s titled: “Prologue – And Then She Owns You.”

What’s it about? It’s about New Orleans,
and the thought of the Katrina disaster
runs all through it, though the poem never
mentions the the storm, or the flood,
or all the death and destruction that resulted.
In fact, I’d pretty much call it – a love poem.

Maybe because I’ve been there –
two or three times, back in the ‘80s.
Maybe that’s why it appeals to me.
And yes, I know it’s whacked to write a poem
about another poem, but this thing
really has me dizzy in its appreciation.

I’m gonna make it a subway poem,
even though I don’t think New Orleans
has a subway connecting its parishes
by tunnels underground. But it’s ok.
Just read it. You will see.

subway poem #9

Reading an obit hyperlinked to a blog
hyperlinked to love poems, one might assume
death were itself conclusive. It is said
Poseidon, the protector of seafarers, is
more powerful a god than the Roman Neptune,
since Greece is surrounded by the sea.

A friend asked if connections between people
had their antecedents out in space, as stardust,
or beneath us, at the bottom of the sea.
All I know is I’d rather be a mariner
than an astronaut. A shipmate told me
there are more airplanes at the bottom
of the ocean than submarines in the sky.

In part, perhaps, because I am an older guy,
I wonder why people seem so obsessed
with a poet’s sexual proclivities, as if
that’s something somehow fixed, predestined.

My favorite poets are so because of what
and how they write, not with whom or how
they spend their private moments. Poetic
sentiment is universal, ubiquitous, maybe
even transformational, if you listen.

It didn’t take me long to figure out
I might not be able to coast by on
my good looks alone. The escalator
froze tonight at Capitol South. Not cool.
Next time I’ll take the steps.

subway poem #10

My train entered McPherson Square station
meeting another train headed to Virginia.
On the other side, I saw the face of a former lover,
looking down at her phone, or maybe a book.
She looks older, but so do I. Twenty-three years.
We had some good times, incredible sex,
endless arguments. And she would drink scotch
and smoke menthol cigarettes late into the night,
and I tried to do both, but self-destruction
wasn’t in my nature. She left and I let her go,
and breaking up was hard, uncertain, chilling
to know what I’d never experience again in quite
the same way, with the same passionate intent.
Two trains passed, pausing at an interim station.


A bit of December chill hurts my knees.
Up and down too many ladders on ships
and submarines when I was young.
Now I pay the price. My Greek Muse
is tapping me on the shoulder, “Write,
write something, damn it!” And I am
heating up yesterday’s Chinese leftovers
and sipping this morning’s coffee for lunch
while the ink dries.


The Golden Krust Man

The Golden Krust man died.
We weren’t friends except

In that dream world –
Where odd things flow together
In a swirl. I was once a baker –
If you overmix the dough
It comes out tough, not crisp like crust.

Today I take the Red Line
To NoMa, then walk the bicycle trail
To the temporary DCPL,
For my practicum arranging
The papers of the Association
Of Liberated Librarians.

subway poem #11

It was a cold morning in the Bottom.
Reading “Trading Twelves” on the Orange Line
I missed my Red Line stop, so I continued
riding (and reading) to the Yellow Line
crossing at L’Enfant Plaza. Already late
for work anyway, I made a detour
and grabbed a hot breakfast to go at Saints’
Paradise Cafe. Picked up The Hill paper
for an update on Tuesday’s #SOTU speech
because it went on forever and I had
my bedtime to keep. Turns out the Negro Caucus
was grumpy all night, sad-faced and wearing
the kente of their African ancestry
around their necks to make a statement.

14 lines

Let’s memorialize this in verse before
truth decays, before it dies a slow death
in its own vomit and built-in obsolescence –

I told them years ago their intel was garbage,
and I stopped consuming it, and I stand
by that. They should have listened.

They have been eating recycled garbage
from the trough for so long now, stewed,
deep-fried, boiled, lightly sauteed, al dente,
and their only language is “oink, oink.”

The Memo is released and the Dow is falling.
I thank the Gods for Fridays and Duke Ellington
Money Jungle (full album on YouTube).
“We have Art in order not to die of the Truth.”


Each universe with which we interact
demands of us a level of respect
and complicity, yes, complicity,
while we wonder if we are hypocrites,
or merely disbelievers. As if it
even matters. And what doesn’t kill us
endows us, becomes our strength and power,
our shelter in a storm. The paths we trod
we tread, the record of our deeds becomes
our judgment day, our immortality.
Be patient with me – I’m not finished yet.
Pay no attention to my southern charm,
that folksiness you underestimate
is just a steady cadence for my march.


George Washington’s Vision of America

George Washington’s Vision of America

George Washington was a man of faith and prayer. The following is an account of George Washington’s vision from an old soldier, Anthony Sherman, who recalled it in 1859 and gave it to Wesley Bradshaw, a writer.

The vision depicted three great wars on American soil. The first was the revolutionary war, the second was the civil war and the third was a war yet to come. Sherman informed Bradshaw that the vision would soon be confirmed by a second war in America. This came to pass two years later when the Civil War broke out in 1861.

Washington received the vision at Valley Forge in the bitter, cold winter of 1777. The revolutionary army was facing its darkest hours and most difficult challenge. The bitter cold, disease, and starvation was on the verge of destroying the army and all hopes for independence.

Sherman’s account of Washington’s vision was reprinted in December of 1880 by The National Tribune, the U.S. war veterans’ paper, and on December 21, 1950 by The Stars and Stripes.

The Vision

Anthony Sherman, was in Valley Forge and received the report of the vision first hand from George Washington. Sherman recalled: “You doubtless heard the story of Washington’s going to the thicket to pray in secret for aid and comfort from God, the interposition of whose Divine Providence brought us safely through the darkest days of tribulation.”

One day, I remember it well, when the chilly winds whistled through the leafless trees, though the sky was cloudless and the sun shown brightly, he remained in his quarters nearly all the afternoon alone. When he came out, I noticed that his face was a shade paler than usual. There seemed to be something on his mind of more than ordinary importance. Returning just after dusk, he dispatched an orderly to the quarters who was presently in attendance. After a preliminary conversation of about an hour, Washington, gazing upon his companion with that strange look of dignity which he alone commanded, related the event that occurred that day.”

Washington Stated:

This afternoon, as I was sitting at this table engaged in preparing a dispatch, something seemed to disturb me. Looking up, I beheld standing opposite me a singularly beautiful female. So astonished was I, for I had given strict orders not to be disturbed, that it was some moments before I found language to inquire the cause of her presence. A second, a third and even a fourth time did I repeat my question, but received no answer from my mysterious visitor except a slight raising of her eyes.

By this time I felt strange sensations spreading through me. I would have risen but the riveted gaze of the being before me rendered volition impossible. I assayed once more to address her, but my tongue had become useless, as though it had become paralyzed.

A new influence, mysterious, potent, irresistible, took possession of me. All I could do was to gaze steadily, vacantly at my unknown visitor. Gradually the surrounding atmosphere seemed as if it had become filled with sensations, and luminous. Everything about me seemed to rarefy, the mysterious visitor herself becoming more airy and yet more distinct to my sight than before. I now began to feel as one dying, or rather to experience the sensations which I have sometimes imagined accompany dissolution. I did not think, I did not reason, I did not move; all were alike impossible. I was only conscious of gazing fixedly, vacantly at my companion.

The First Peril – The Revolution

Presently I heard a voice saying, ‘Son of the Republic, look and learn,’ while at the same time my visitor extended her arm eastwardly, I now beheld a heavy white vapor at some distance rising fold upon fold. This gradually dissipated, and I looked upon a stranger scene. Before me lay spread out in one vast plain all the countries of the world – Europe, Asia, Africa and America. I saw rolling and tossing between Europe and America the billows of the Atlantic, and between Asia and America lay the Pacific.

‘Son of the Republic,’ said the same mysterious voice as before, `look and learn.’ At that moment I beheld a dark, shadowy being, like an angel, standing or rather floating in mid-air, between Europe and America. Dipping water out of the ocean in the hollow of each hand, he sprinkled some upon America with his right hand, while with his left hand he cast some on Europe. Immediately a cloud raised from these countries, and joined in mid-ocean. For a while it remained stationary, and then moved slowly westward, until it enveloped America in its murky folds. Sharp flashes of lightning gleamed through it at intervals, and I heard the smothered groans and cries of the American people.

The Second Perl – The Civil War

A second time the angel dipped water from the ocean, and sprinkled it out as before. The dark cloud was then drawn back to the ocean, in whose heaving billows in sank from view. A third time I heard the mysterious voice saying, `Son of the Republic, look and learn,’ I cast my eyes upon America and beheld villages and towns and cities springing up one after another until the whole land from the Atlantic to the Pacific was dotted with them.

Again, I heard the mysterious voice say, `Son of the Republic, the end of the century cometh, look and learn.’ At this the dark shadowy angel turned his face southward, and from Africa I saw an ill omened specter approach our land. It flitted slowly over every town and city of the latter. The inhabitants presently set themselves in battle array against each other. As I continued looking I saw a bright angel, on whose brow rested a crown of light, on which was traced the word `Union,’ bearing the American flag which he placed between the divided nation, and said, `Remember ye are brethren.’ Instantly, the inhabitants, casting from them their weapons became friends once more, and united around the National Standard.

The Third Peril – America’s Judgment?

And again I heard the mysterious voice saying `Son of the Republic, look and learn.’ At this the dark, shadowy angel placed a trumpet to his mouth, and blew three distinct blasts; and taking water from the ocean, he sprinkled it upon Europe, Asia and Africa. Then my eyes beheld a fearful scene: From each of these countries arose thick, black clouds that were soon joined into one. Throughout this mass there gleamed a dark red light by which I saw hordes of armed men, who, moving with the cloud, marched by land and sailed by sea to America. Our country was enveloped in this volume of cloud, and I saw these vast armies devastate the whole county and burn the villages, towns and cities that I beheld springing up. As my ears listened to the thundering of the cannon, clashing of sword, and the shouts and cries of millions in mortal combat, I heard again the mysterious voice saying, `Son of the Republic, look and learn.’ When the voice had ceased, the dark shadowy angel placed his trumpet once more to his mouth, and blew a long and fearful blast.

Instantly a light as of a thousand suns shone down from above me, and pierced and broke into fragments the dark cloud which enveloped America. At the same moment the angel upon whose head still shone the word Union, and who bore our national flag in one hand and a sword in the other, descended from the heavens attended by legions of white spirits. These immediately joined the inhabitants of America, who I perceived were will nigh overcome, but who immediately taking courage again, closed up their broken ranks and renewed the battle.

Again, amid the fearful noise of the conflict, I heard the mysterious voice saying, `Son of the Republic, look and learn.’ As the voice ceased, the shadowy angel for the last time dipped water from the ocean and sprinkled it upon America. Instantly the dark cloud rolled back, together with the armies it had brought, leaving the inhabitants of the land victorious!

Then once more I beheld the villages, towns and cities springing up where I had seen them before, while the bright angel, planting the azure standard he had brought in the midst of them, cried with a loud voice: `While the stars remain, and the heavens send down dew upon the earth, so long shall the Union last.’ And taking from his brow the crown on which blazoned the word `Union,’ he placed it upon the Standard while the people, kneeling down, said, `Amen.’

The scene instantly began to fade and dissolve, and I at last saw nothing but the rising, curling vapor I at first beheld. This also disappearing, I found myself once more gazing upon the mysterious visitor, who, in the same voice I had heard before, said, `Son of the Republic, what you have seen is thus interpreted: Three great perils will come upon the Republic. The most fearful is the third, but in this greatest conflict the whole world united shall not prevail against her. Let every child of the Republic learn to live for his God, his land and the Union’. With these words the vision vanished, and I started from my seat and felt that I had seen a vision wherein had been shown to me the birth, progress, and destiny of the United States.

This ended General George Washington’s vision and prophecy for the United States of America as told in his words.


In the third peril Washington saw invaders coming from Europe (Russia), Asia (China and Iran), and Africa (Libya).