Subway

 

Below Paris, deep within the ground, heavy trains pound

And roll through giant, intelligently-chewed, mole holes.

Rocking, braking, and rushing over iron rails,

Well-lit snakes carry people from station to station.

Beautiful, alert passengers, crowding early and late,

Take a chance to furtively glance at one another.

But that's where it ends.

 

Handsome men in dark suits read newspapers.

Then, after reaching their stop,

These know-where-I'm-going riders hop

Through the automatic doors and scurry out of sight.

 

Sitting with dignity and poise,

Braless women cross their bare, tan legs

And seem unaware of their magic.

Tourists galore, young and old, hauling backpacks,

Study maps and make sure they are not as lost as before.

 

Such was the day we found a roundabout way

To Victor Hugo's and Chopin's ancient crypt.

On the subway I felt the drama

That filled our car with marvelous yet regrettable isolation.

If, in the stony silence, a few voices were heard,

Meanings blurred with the clack of the wheels.

 

Although I yearned to know some of these people

And to hear a few stories only,

A wall, as ancient as Hadrian's,

Kept me separated and lonely.

 

But then the unexpected thrilled me.

Pulling down a seat, I plopped beside a Black woman.

And she treated me with her smile.

 

More oval than round, the lady had a pretty face

And a place in her life for kindness.

On her lap wiggled a two-year-old darling.

This tot, not knowing a lot about fear,

Reached her soft hands toward me.

 

Her little fingers, with the power of a saint,

Melted effortlessly through that quaint, granite impediment

That makes earth's travelers strangers.

 

This innocent, chocolate cherub,

With dark eyes and a perfect complexion,

Wanted to sit on my lap,

So the child I reached to lightly lift,

And the mother happily handed me her gift.

 

Instantly loving the baby, I wanted to kiss her soft cheek.

But sensing the meek infant's tenderness,

And knowing only a fragile bond,

I fondly held her just to my lap.

 

Not knowing French, I could not compliment the mother,

But I felt the vivid joy which comes when we uncover

That separation which afflicts us all.

 

Allen Hackworth 2000