February 26, 2015

Poetry Friday--Senses

This is the last week of Laura Shovan's Sound Poem project, which is taking place at Author Amok.

For yesterday's challenge we were sent to 2 pages of train sounds and had to pick one that inspired us. I didn't need to go beyond the first sound, a subway train. It brought back a flood of memories in which every one of my senses was reawakened. The strongest memory is of walking between moving cars and the louder than loud sounds of steel wheels on steel rails, but I don't mention the between cars business in the poem. It's probably against the law to pass between moving cars!
On the IRT

We didn't travel to
Manhattan often, but
the trips involving
a subway station have
stuck with me for
a half-century. It was
the late 50s or early 60s--
the subway an express
ride for my
suburban five senses.

The station with its

Sounds of
screeching wheels,
the rattle of tinny cars,
high heels clacking.

Smells of
axle grease, and piss--
every stairwell or
tunnel reeking of it.

Feel of
dirt--"Don't lean
against anything!"
body grease on stanchions
nose prints on windows.

Taste of
one peppermint Chiclet
from a cardboard packet.
You got two for a penny
from a tiny vending
machine affixed
to a steel column.

Sights of
New York had to offer,
which included
mostly people.
All ages, all races,
all religions (especially
the leafleting ones),
and all classes
from bums to business men.

Also spotted was
the occasional cat
in a handbag, and
glistening globs
of spittle on
the platform--
despite spitting being
unlawful, and subject
to fines and/or imprisonment.

To this day, I can't
recall a single one
of our destinations.

I'm not the only one who remembers the old subways of New York. Here are two links to follow if you're interested in taking a trip down the memory subway tunnel: 1. Gothamist; 2. The Atlantic: CityLab.

Here's a close-up of the no-spitting sign seen in the above photo. I could never understand the reasoning behind the sign (aside from the fact that it was gross) until I learned that it was a carry-over from the time when tuberculosis ran rampant in New York and not spitting could save lives.

Interborough Rapid Transit Subway (Original Line), New York, New York County, NY. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Since March is right around the corner, Heidi Mordhurst is throwing another poetry challenge at us. Read about it at My Juicy Universe where Heidi is also hosting the Round-Up.


  1. Great poem -- brings back memories of riding the London tube -- very similar sights and sounds. Interesting tidbit about the No Spitting sign -- wouldn't have occurred to me.

    1. Thanks, Jama! We are so far removed from the days of consumption and lack of hygiene that it's hard to believe that cities had to police spitting!

  2. I've only ridden a subway a couple times in my life - but this brought back plenty of memories! Well done, Diane.

    1. I went to college in the Bronx and lived there for two years after college. I've got plenty of subway memories that I'd rather forget!

  3. Fantastic, Diane--my favorite stanza is the one about the Chiclets, the kind of memory which always sticks with me too! I rode the NYC subway lots in the 80's...it was different but the same, except for my young adult viewpoint.

    1. The subways have gotten cleaner and sleeker, and probably a little less interesting!

  4. I was fixated on that peppermint Chiclet, too! (Perhaps because you did such a great job conveying things less clean and minty?!)
    One of your typical killer endings again. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Subways are still a little skeezy, but they are no longer an assault!

  5. Wonderful to read your memory, Diane. I've ridden subways only in the past 20 years or so, fascinating to me, wishing I could have had more experiences with them, & wish we had them. My memory of public transportation is the street cars in Kansas City of long ago. You craft stories so beautifully.

    1. Thanks, Linda. I wish public transportation was more common. When I was very young, street cars were still active in Queens, NY.

  6. The poem captures your experience beautifully. I am right there hearing, seeing, and smelling. Such imagery! I fell off the wagon of the sound poetry project this week. It was a busy week. I'm glad you have stuck with it.

    1. Pick yourself up and start again with Heidi's challenge!

  7. Count me in as another person relieved to have a minty chiclet in the middle of the mess... :-) Fascinating about the reason behind the "no spitting" signs.

    1. So much forgotten history for us to rediscover!

  8. My first trip on a NYC subway was as a child in the mid 60's - I was at Mt. Sinai Hospital, and getting ready for surgery, and we were in town just for that (all the way from Bombay), but that was something I really wanted to do and so my father gave in. I'll never forget that feeling of sensory overload then...and how blase I am about my frequent journeys on the subway now. Fabulous poem, as always.

    1. It's funny, there were kids in my daughter's high school class who had never been on a subway until they went down to Boston with her. Mind you, Boston is only 45 minutes away! It's hard to think of a life confined to one's town.

  9. Love all the imagery, Diane. I have only been on the subway a few times many years ago, but you captured it perfectly!

  10. Diane, what a marvelous poem-it is a raw scene of subway life. As for your walking between moving cars-quite a scary venture and vision for me.

  11. Wow -- I love the sensory details in this poem. I can picture a parent warning the child not to touch the metal poles in the car. That Chiclet -- perfect! You took me back to my college days, when I was a devoted NYC subway rider.