The Subway Strummer


Below concrete caverns of city,
within the howling packs of trains,
a singer tunes his chords ready to unravel
urban dwellers, rearranging atoms.

The atmosphere changes as his voice rides stale air,
extracting thoughts of her loneliness, slick on skin,
like a thin layer of bacitracin that has left her glossy and flat.
She loosens the grip on her knockoff bag,
bothered by its imitation of an unaffordable life.
If she could, she’d snub her nose at trendiness,
the brown and gold — vague riches never suited her.

The feeling soaks into the bed of her self-polished nails,
whisper colored to get away from siren reds and schoolgirl pinks.
They brush against the locks of a man,
who, still digesting his morning cereal, sealed with an impatient kiss,
grieves the loss of his country in an unfinished war,
not clinging to things that fit inside his palms,
no reminder of the firearms he once held.
His thoughts loom larger:
he’s killed men,
he doubts religion,
he needs to see a doctor about a nagging pain,
a leaky ulcer expanding in the lining of his stomach,
settling into the sway of his hips, a tick tock reminder,
striking the man camouflaged in concrete and ash,
threads of a suit that will allow him to disappear into streets.
But for now, he is here.
His lips humming.
The sweetness of the gum he chews triggers his glands.

The shuffle to make space is a dance.
Weighted placement on a platform of electric air,
charged with the speed of subway cars launching
people to places, announced, unannounced, tired or rested.
Commitments will be met.
Time is thought to be mastered.

Teetering rubbers soles on the bumps of caution,
the last strum of a chord vibrates, runs through their blood,
counting cells and the beats of their hearts,
anticipation of a day on a job, in a marriage, in a house, in a towering building.
And in this hushed movement of unity,
The Musician has arrived at his destination.

The Dancers leave, wearing music,
taking pieces of him with them
as he collects the coins and cash they have left.

An even exchange, he feels,
and a song well sung.


16 thoughts on “The Subway Strummer

  1. Debbie

    I suppose music is the universal language, isn’t it? And even the hardest criminal or the crustiest doubter can find something to relate to in music. These street musicians (and there are many in New Orleans) do what they do without regard for fame or fortune, almost as if they perform out of some self-determined need. You’ve captured it well, DD.

    1. desertdweller29

      Thanks, Debbie. One of the best singers I’ve ever heard was in the subway. She showed up everyday for almost a year during the days I commuted. I missed trains just to hear her longer. And like you said, she didn’t seek fame, at least not after a series of almost-big-time-breaks.

  2. L. T. Garvin, Author

    I adore how you slip seamlessly into the minds of the people. Extraordinary character sketches. My husband had to play on Venice Beach when first arriving in CA in the 1980s, but he wasn’t so selfless, he really wanted to be in Guns n Roses, lol!

    1. desertdweller29

      How epically awesome would it be to see the Professor down there playing?! I propose your next video be shot entirely in subway or train stations! For kicks and giggles, of course. But leave your case open to pay for lunch and travel expenses and a new hat in case it gets stolen. I bet you’d transform the place!

  3. walt walker

    I like the rawness of this:

    “His thoughts loom larger:
    he’s killed men,
    he doubts religion,
    he needs to see a doctor about a nagging pain,
    a leaky ulcer expanding in the lining of his stomach,”

    I like how plain and straightforward it is. It’s striking and stands out in contrast to the rest.

  4. Don Royster

    It’s amazing how a piece of music can change everything and touch that deepest part of ourselves. Music is so honest it makes us see through all our illusions. For a moment, it doesn’t matter who we are or what we have or what color our skin is or anything of those superficial things. It calls forth a true emotion. What a thing of beauty it is. Good poem and thanks for reminding me how much I love music.

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