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American Life in Poetry

The American poet Ezra Pound once described the faces of people in a rail station as petals on a wet black bough. That was roughly 75 years ago. Here Barry Goldensohn of New York offers a look at a contemporary subway station. Not petals, but people all the same.


The station platform, clean and broad, his stage for push-ups, sit-ups, hamstring stretch, as he laid aside his back pack, from which his necessaries bulged, as he bulged through jeans torn at butt, knee and thigh, in deep palaver with himself — sigh, chatter, groan. Deranged but common.

We sat at a careful distance to spy

on his performance, beside a woman

in her thirties, dressed as in her teens — this is L.A. — singing to herself.

How composed, complete and sane

she seemed. A book by the Dalai Lama

in her hands, her face where pain and wrong were etched, here becalmed, with faint chirps leaking from the headphones of her walkman.

Not talking. Singing, lost in song.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright 2006 by Barry Goldensohn, whose most recent book of poetry is East Long Pond (with Lorrie Goldensohn), Cummington Press, 1998. Reprinted from Salmagundi, Fall, 2006, No. 152, with permission of the author. Introduction copyright 2006 by the Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.