Let’s call it the Q, as in Question.
As in what begins the word Quest—
If you were on that train and it was 42nd Street
at 8 pm, and you were headed home on the Quell
train you share with, who may as well be,
the same people, each night.
And you get to thinking—
which looks like being a piece of furniture
with ear buds. With each turn, your butt slides
along the plastic blue, it can’t help
but drift into the man at your side,
who to you could be a book shelf.
But then, you think how for three stops
he will be your father;
that if you were to cry—
if your heart were to crack
into the skin of your chest,
your face to betray
how this train feels as though
it is hurrying you away from your childhood
at an alarming rate
and you might not have time to grow up.
—you decide this man,
will put his arm around you,
and now that you know this, you almost
have to cry.
This is when the woman by the door
with hair in tight braids, holding one piece of paper,
gazes above our heads, and begins to read aloud
to the man who rented her heart,
and nothing looks like we know
exactly what she speaks of
The train is quiet as a field.
You have an ache that begins slowly,
then travels up your torso.
You want to hold her—
that would be crazy.
Her loneliness is a mist over us all.
Across the aisle, a new woman,
eyes wide as fifty cent pieces,
begins to sing Nina Simone.
Only now do you wonder
if you are asleep, and how sad it is
that trust feels as though you could be
woken from it.
You wonder if it is okay
to clap your hands. If it is okay
to dance. The lady next to you
just took her coat off and walks the aisle
searching people in their eyes when she smiles.
She wears a thick South African accent,
and the world is inside the Quest train.
We swallow her story that could
just as easily be ours, since we all
entered through the same doors.
As if carried by the wind
she expands out into Atlantic Terminal
where her final proclamation echoes:
It was a good day!
None of this is a metaphor.
I’m writing because
I saw it.
I was there.
Jon Sands is a winner of the 2018 National Poetry Series, selected for his second book, It’s Not Magic (Beacon Press, 2019). His work has been featured in the New York Times, as well as anthologized in The Best American Poetry. He facilitates the Emotional Historians writing workshop, which you can learn more about on IG at @iAmJonSands.