Russell Jaffe: See the Lights
MY GIRLFRIEND WORKS AT THE NEW YORK TRANSIT MUSEUM
My girlfriend always takes 400 years of development to get there.
She sees the lights of the alarm and the sun coming from under the blinds.
This is her signal to get up; I wait for the signal to go.
I lay in bed, sometimes I close my eyes and pretend to sleep and then
fall asleep; she clatters the medicine cabinets open and closed. Her
makeup is in a cardboard cube getting dampened by the humidifier.
My girlfriend and I see eye to eye: she knows I want to go home
but I don’t know what home is, but between these rail cars
she makes a meager living and she leaves artifacts around
the apartment I pick up, study, roll on.
My girlfriend’s butt fits into her jeans
as the road leads soft cars south to the
heart shaped chili pepper corner of Brooklyn.
Her feet pepper the sidewalk on her way to the train
and she wonders what the little kids will be like on the tour she gives today
and what kinds of maps they’ll draw
when they’re given a box of crayons and a blank
sheet covered in the wiggly lined skeleton of the
city’s underground. When she gives them the signal they
can color at will. Some leave their drawings behind in the unlit tunnels of the museum.
Little feet in between rail cars,
old advertisements, yellow and promising.
Also almost entirely decayed. The road does this also under the cars.
New iron, old laws and rules.
Did you know the tunnels are different sizes because
different train companies built different trains to specifically go through them?
I wait in line to go in
to see her.
She pulls up always from the back,
circular wheels once pumping, borne home;
she and her wonderment meet me and
sometimes we go to trivia at near Atlantic Avenue.
The little cars coming in to New York City over the briny sea
see the lights, so
they don’t wonder much at all.
Story old as
(time) itself, cobbled together by tired
hands, laid into tunnels of men.
Time’s stinky bootstraps, time’s laces undone
make little clicking noises along the wet ingots.
Time’s feet are rock. Time has purchased itself cold medication
that goes right to the guts, swims through deep
digestive systems and back into the sea.
When they dig the tunnels it’s an elemental science,
like bones, like how the museum exhibit said
the bones of dinosaurs were sitting like birds on their eggs
and then they were gone.
The train is empty. We knew a lot about winter,
the old iron clambered
together with sooty hands. The
flicker of headlamps on,
the line of lettering,
the N. The train I take today.
Today, this winter, Nobody.
The pick in the rock is a calligraphy of years and
tongues. Two little rocks are a nose.
The face of this civilization is crying on the side of a building,
saying “don’t give them your eyes,
give them the cardboard cutout of your face.”
Editor's Note: These poems appeared in a previous issue.
Russell Jaffe is the editor of TL;DR magazine (tldrmagazine.com), teaches at Loyola University in Chicago and Fusion Academy in Oak Brook, and stars in literary study guides for Course Hero (https://www.youtube.com/user/CourseHeroVideo/playlists).
He is the author of the poetry collections This Super Doom I Aver (Poets Democracy, '12), INTROVERT//EXTROVERT (Punk Hostage Press, '14), LA CROIX WATER (Damask, '16), and Civil Coping Mechanisms (Civil Coping Mechanisms, '17). He loves being a dad, seltzer, and pro wrestling. How are things in your town?