The Girl Fighting Back Tears on the Subway
During Morning Rush Hour
She is lovely in her despair.
If I were a poet, she would become my poem.
If I were Billy Collins, she would inspire me to describe
the way she looks, sitting there in her new outfit from H & M,
using every ounce of will to keep the tears from spilling
out of her eyes and ruining her makeup. She is thinking
about the fight she had with her boyfriend, and praying
that he is not, at this very moment, packing his belongings
and moving out of their studio apartment, which she cannot
afford without him. Yes, she’s had her doubts,
but she doesn’t want to be alone in this city, working
at the crummy job she took just to be near him
when she could have gone to grad school or roomed
for a year with her best friend, in Madrid.
Billy Collins would observe her pink-rimmed eyes
and inflamed nostrils, how she presses her fingertips with their
ragged fingernails to her forehead as if to banish thoughts
that will bring on more tears. He knows more than she
does about why she is crying: Her tears are not just over
her boyfriend, who she is certain will leave her, but
about everything she has lost in her twenty-two years,
and her uncertain future. Billy Collins would write this
poem in a way that is sympathetic and funny, too, so that
when she reads it many years hence, she recognizes
something of herself and remembers how foolish she once was
though she can no longer recall his name, the boy who
made her so miserable on the long ago morning.
If I were another poet, I might be inspired to write about
the metaphorical distance between us, she at the beginning
of life, full of hope and possibility, and I with only the past,
and all of its inevitable disappointments. Galway
Kinnell would reassure her that yes, the book of his poems
that she had been reading as she stood shivering on the platform
in Queens, the words blurred by her tears, and that is now
tucked into her briefcase along with her lunch of plain yogurt
and fruit, was meant to make her cry. “Tears are good. Let them
flow,” he would say. “Be unashamed in your grief.” His poems
are there for her when she cannot summon the words to express
her feelings. If I were another poet – and I better act fast
because the subway is nearing her stop – if I were Denise Duhamel,
(and hers is the poem I want to write most of all), I would
take her side in it. Denise would tell her she’s lucky she’s rid
of him as in fact we know she is. Sure, she got into this mess all by
herself, but the sex was awesome, so who can blame her?
Imagine how great it will be, alone in the apartment, without
his hardened globs of toothpaste in the bathroom sink, not to
mention the way he hogs the covers and only listens to seventies
metal music and spends hours on YouTube and reading his
old Garfield comic books.
Denise would tell her this kindly, without judgement or
resentment, even though this girl is naturally skinny and
has never had to limit herself to a tulip-sized portion
of pasta in her life. Look at your reflection in the window
as we speed toward Chambers Street. You don’t know this yet,
but your building is about to go co-op and your parents
will help you buy the studio. And that guy in accounting?
The one you made out with in the mail room during the Christmas party?
He’s the one for you. Forget the loser you’re crying over. He’s
gone. By the time Denise finishes with her and we pull up to the platform,
her tears would dry. She gets up from her seat, straightens her skirt,
smooths her hair, lifts her head, and is ready to take on the world.
Published in OCHO #26 (The Travel Issue edited by Emma Trelles)