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bows and arrows


I once read a story long ago by someone who wrote “what a shame, God gave us eyes to turn away.” I don’t know if the story was ever published (it was an unknown writer’s submission to a journal) but I’ve always wanted, until now, to steal that line.

On the subway, today about six o’clock, we were packed in rows along the platform, train after express train entering the station, the cars packed just as tightly. No one could get on. A few aggressive middle-aged singulars managed to push themselves into the mush. The rest of us stood around wondering. The station was stifling. I was sweating beneath my raincoat. Everyone was looking about helplessly, or annoyed, or worried, or somber. Glistening faces kept drawing my eye: bright-eyed or solemn-faced, short-brown-haired and long-blonde-haired and curly-haired with narrow lips and noses, and red-heads with floral umbrellas.

I’m waitin’ on a subway line. I’m waitin’ for a train to arrive.

I was thinking about which, if any, I would try to approach but there were too many, and in any case the platform was too crowded to really move. I watched people attempt to read, heads down, until the crowd closed in on them, forcing them to put up their books, or the heat got to them, or the waiting in the heat. We all kept looking, restless, down the tracks hoping for a train, or over the heads of the crowd, into the eyes of those whose ocular arcs we crossed. Finally, I managed to squeeze into a car.

I noticed two or three of those I’d eyed on the platform. I wondered, naturally, where they were heading. It felt good to be in their proximity. In the crush of the crowd in the car, I was pressed up against others, no one being able to make any space for themselves, and it was both an annoyance and a subtle pleasure. The warmth of bodies, the sweat and smells and breaths, and the wet from the rain outside. I looked at the women I could see, from figure to figure, and imagined myself sandwiched between them, rocking with the motions of the car. The car squealed and jerked and rattled. It was so cozy in there I decided to wait an extra stop before getting off. I was enjoying the feel of humanity. No one was overly petulant, in fact the incredible pack inside had caused many people to smile, laugh, make jokes. I got off at the next stop, and as I stepped out onto the platform I glanced at the heads emerging in front of me, then down to the shoes, the wet legs, shapely behinds.

Don’t worry, we’re in no hurry. School’s out, what did you expect?

We shuffled out through the gates and up the stairs, herded with heads bent once more into a transformed world, the rain and natural light, taxis and streetlights and advertisements. The shower had lessened. As soon as we were on the sidewalk we slowly began to break apart, distending at the varied rate of steps and pauses to open umbrellas, check cell phones, glance for oncoming traffic. As I turned down the second block, a woman approached off the side street, short-haired and sharp-eyed, and instantly I felt an affection for her. I held my eyes until she looked.

O! the furtive glances of singles! Equal parts anticipatory and frightened, eager and coy, quick and lingering. I love them. We walked on. Her image, a flash, stayed before my mind the rest of the way to the studio, a bright question that felt good just to ponder, a happy encounter. A part of the great city life, where small town self-consciousness is overwhelmed by the crowd, where beauty in the form of a building, a church, a sculpture, an afternoon light, a park, a bloom, a crowd, a pair of eyes, can surprise you at any moment–as if constantly emerging as you walk the streets. Enough activity for anyone to be a voyeur, unnoticed. Maybe this is the one city (one of a few) that can absolve the Anonymous Writer’s shame. God’s idea come to fruition.


From → What's Ours

One Comment
  1. Grant permalink

    A good read. And a good line that (“what a shame, God gave us eyes to turn away”).

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