This Way Out

Emerging from the train into the dimness,
I hewed salmon-like to the school
of commuters and day-trippers
crossing the platform and entering
the yellow-tiled tunnel climbing
to the harsh Manhattan sunlight.
As I turned a corner near a flight of stairs,
the crowd slowed, but didn’t stop,
eddying at the small wallside cubby.

A fever dream of a man stood within,
covered in shredded gray –
rags, beard, and life –
as everyone but I erased him
from their narrow realities
and passed him by.
He was huffing into and out of
a harmonica in one hand and
grasping an unloved piece of himself
with the other.
“How can they not care about this?”
I thought. “How can someone fall
like this and not care about himself?”
Rejoining the swirling mass,
I climbed into the whirring city.

Years later, I stood in the dreamless
dark hallway of my life, no visible light
or means of exit in sight,
nor any care to find them.
I had turned into my own sad and
ragged pile of gray,
shouting at the passing callous world
or hiding from its loveless minion.
But you stopped for me, drawn to this pen
and this notebook, upon which I now draw
maps of escape routes from this life
to your light. We haven’t touched yet,
but I have a lot of ink in this well of hope,
lots of pages in my journal of possibilities.




This poem emerged from a memory I recently dredged up of a trip I made to Manhattan more than 25 years ago. There was the train to Grand Central Station, there was a tunnel of yellow tile full of surging humanity, and there was a man in shredded rags “performing” for no one but himself. Such memories sneak up on me now that I’m more mindful of my feelings and impressions and happen to keep a log of this new journey. “This Way Out” is just the latest leg of that journey. If you would like to read more such trips, feel free to sail around the blog. And if you’re looking more poetic flights of fancy and reality, sail on over to dVerse Poets Pub for Open Link Night. My friend Joy “Hedgewitch” Jones is skipper there tonight.

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27 thoughts on “This Way Out

  1. Oh, Wow. Too much to love about this but will point out a few things – the ending is hopeful, open, and (as if you didn't know I have a thing for)…alliteration! God. 'life to your light' and 'pages of possibilities' – gorgeous) And this: He was huffing into and out ofa harmonica in one hand andgrasping an unloved piece of himselfwith the other.what an image.Thank you Joe. You keep getting better and better (and you were already great to begin with). Heather

  2. So fabulous to find joy out of the 'sad and ragged pile of gray' in your 'ink well of hope' ….those possibilities shine a path to the future, like glittering stars. May the Universe let it happen. Wonderful poem, dear Joe 🙂

  3. My house is like that guy…To paraphrase: How can someone fall like this and not care about all the crap strewn around?Yes, I've neglected it in favor of writing poetry! The gutter is the next stop, where I will still be scribbling lines on the small white spaces of broken beer bottle labels!

  4. I like how you culled it from your memory and shared this with us. I admit I do tend to ignore people like him to and from the commute. Now your writing gives it a meaningful expression, and I hope you continue to write in your journal of possibilities ~

  5. Touched by your story. Reminded of the many times I travelled by train to NYC in late 70's & early 80's, mostly into Penn Station though, not Grand Central. Back then saw many subway sitters in drug-induced haze swatting imaginary flies. I also remember others though, just trying to eke out survival with their music. Would always try to throw some change their way (still do). Believe everyone deserves a chance, and am always reminded "But for the grace of God go I." A thoughtful write Joe, thanks for sharing.

  6. the hope in the piece touched me, the love of humanity. years ago, a few more than 25, i had a similar experience in manhattan, a man had fallen over, ill in some way in grand central, and everyone just stepped over him, kept going, it took several minutes for someone to actually stop to see if he was okay. it broke my heart.this took me right back to that moment.but left me with hope at the end.

  7. I took a trip to New York when I was 19 and it was like Dante's journey into the Inferno for me-without any great epic to show for it. This little slice of your memory resonates with mine, and your end stanzas, with my own current feelings about writing in this journal of life. Excellent piece, Joe.

  8. hi Josephthis is wonderful… and I remember an experiment that was done some time back at the same station (I think) where one of the top musician, with million dollar violin was playing for an hour the finest piece of music… and no one looked at him (Infact few children, and one or two people stopped enough to listen), whereas those same people will buy 100 dollar tickets to see his concert… that is how our mind is conditioned… always in its own chaos of past and future… never living in the moment… that is happening all around you… in that 'now'I liked your thoughts and its good that you are noticing things now.. that is the best way to live…Your verse is great and it captures the essence of living..Shashiॐ नमः शिवायOm Namah Shivayahttp://shadowdancingwithmind.blogspot.com/2011/11/whispers-where-you-will-go.html

  9. A wonderful poetic canvas of the lost gray man in every city…compassionate, with your well of ink and hope. Seeing yourself as such, brings it home to all of us. Great write!

  10. I feel how you have sifted and pondered this memory and then peeled it back for us.. great immediacy despite the 25 year gap.. strong testimony to your power to recreate, Joeand that is writing.. and hope..

  11. A great write, Joe. I love the sentiment in this and your reflection. You end it with hope in these lines..and this notebook, upon which I now drawmaps of escape routes from this lifeto your light. We haven't touched yet,but I have a lot of ink in this well of hope,lots of pages in my journal of possibilities.Love it!

  12. Loved the evolution of the poem, the way you observe only to become. It's a lesson for us all. Clearly you took more away from the encounter than you would have thought at the time and here it becomes a metaphor for change, caring, becoming unique while still remaining in the human community. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Excellent poem. I liked way you have taken this out from your memory box and knitted in a wonderful form. Thanks for your #WW I am so glad to be part of wonderful community where no one falls behind.

  14. Pingback: The Blue Line « A Thing for Words

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