On the Metro

September 13, 2006 at 9:20 pm 8 comments

C K Williams

Listen (to Dion Flynn)

On the metro, I have to ask a young woman to move the packages beside her to make room for me;
she’s reading, her foot propped on the seat in front of her, and barely looks up as she pulls them to her.
I sit, take out my own book—Cioran, The Temptation to Exist—and notice her glancing up from hers
to take in the title of mine, and then, as Gombrowicz puts it, she “affirms herself physically,” that is,
becomes present in a way she hadn’t been before: though she hasn’t moved, she’s allowed herself
to come more sharply into focus, be more accessible to my sensual perception, so I can’t help but remark
her strong figure and very tan skin—(how literally golden young women can look at the end of summer.)
She leans back now, and as the train rocks and her arm brushes mine she doesn’t pull it away;
she seems to be allowing our surfaces to unite: the fine hairs on both our forearms, sensitive, alive,
achingly alive, bring news of someone touched, someone sensed, and thus acknowledged, known.

I understand that in no way is she offering more than this, and in truth I have no desire for more,
but it’s still enough for me to be taken by a surge, first of warmth then of something like its opposite:
a memory—a girl I’d mooned for from afar, across the table from me in the library in school now,
our feet I thought touching, touching even again, and then, with all I craved that touch to mean,
my having to realize it wasn’t her flesh my flesh for that gleaming time had pressed, but a table leg.
The young woman today removes her arm now, stands, swaying against the lurch of the slowing train,
and crossing before me brushes my knee and does that thing again, asserts her bodily being again,
(Gombrowicz again), then quickly moves to the door of the car and descends, not once looking back,
(to my relief not looking back), and I allow myself the thought that though I must be to her again
as senseless as that table of my youth, as wooden, as unfeeling, perhaps there was a moment I was not.

(Poetry magazine Sept 2005. The reading is from the Poetry Foundation podcast.)

Makes you chuckle. The vulnerability of the poet and his rather hopeless anticipation work very well. People are almost always craving contact. And while we are still figuring out a way to read other people’s minds, the books they carry, seems like a good representation of their intellect and taste, don’t they?

A friend of mine judges people by (the contents of) their bookshelves. One will follow complete strangers just to catch a glimpse of the book they are carrying and another will ignore all the hot single women in a cafe. The only thing his eyes connect with are the sleeves of the books these women are reading.


Witold Gombrowicz was a Polish novelist and dramatist. Emil Cioran a Romanian philosopher and writer.



Entry filed under: Black Mamba, C K Williams, English.

Desiderata The Art of Disappearing

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. The Chronic Skeptic  |  September 14, 2006 at 12:54 pm

    Black Mamba, these friends of yours sound remarkably like Falstaff.

    On three different days/in three different places perhaps, but yes, very Falstaff.


  • 2. blackmamba  |  September 14, 2006 at 4:29 pm

    Skeptic: Don’t they all sound like the same snob…:) I actually seem to know one snob too many. These are three different (living, breathing) creatures. and I had to leave out a couple more who are just as bad (sorry you-know-who-you-are).

    Before you insist on proof – The bookshelf snob is Veena. The book chaser, of course, is Falstaff. The 3rd I mentioned (un)fortunately does not blog – but does have the most wonderful collection of books in his apartment – let me put it this way, if Woody Allen ever decides to shoot a film in San Francisco, this would be the apartment.

  • 3. Brendan  |  August 31, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    It’s been far too long! I hope that life is treating you well and that your “employing the panhandlers” program is going well. I’ll try and check out your blog when I can get a chance. Glad to have found your corner of the web! Best, Brendan

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