The steady rattle of the train is punctuated by a PSSSHTCLK!
as the man behind me starts his day off with a Lucky Lager.
There’s maybe four other souls in the car aside from me, one’s a snail
with his world on his back, pine-freshly returned
from a tour tree-planting, hallowed earth still carried
under his fingertips as he sips his large double-double,
shifts the weight of his backpack bundle sideways
and squint through the cracks in his cellphone to try and tell
what his buddy meant.
One has nails clicking like talons across tile as she
finesses ferocious missives on a Macbook,
readying a full clip fo emails to fire off the second
she’s back in WiFi. Her hair’s pulled back
tighter than tuned piano strings, her rainjacket so precision-engineered
both bullets and raindroplets would roll right off it, she looks ready
to conquer a mountain because she has to conquer one every damn day,
and god help you if you don’t leave space for her flag at the summit.
One catches ten minutes of rest, leaning against the glass
as the views of the mountains become crowded out by condos.
He was halfway into the second chapter about macroeconomics
when his 2AM texting blitz with the girl from the library
finally caught up with him, so he gives himself ten
against the windowpane, assuming his body will automatically
jolt back to full power once he’s close enough to campus
to smell the heady blend of anxiety and optimism.
And the last is the man behind me,
grinning sideways at the grey skies and the skeletal outlines of new Brentwood towers
as the station lumbers into view. He tucks the emptied can out of sight
under his seat, pulls his headphones from a bulging coat pocket
and lets whatever music he has at the ready carry him on
out of the station, out of sight, hands gently thrumming
drum solos on the seat in front of him, both serene and enlivened
before the sun even had time to get its slippers on.
When you live in a city of two million and change
You get asked for change an awful lot.
People will concoct the wildest plots to get
into your pockets,
slam together slivers of stories to get
slim nickels and dimes,
and thats okay;
that’s just the state of the nation.
It’s not perfect, but you learn to live with it.
But then you get blindsided
by a little old lady
on the westbound train to Lougheed
who’d just gotten out of the hospital
after muggers attacked her and her daughter
with acid, swapping scars
for purses and shopping bags.
And while her daughter’s still under doctoral care
she’s out in the open, paper hands clasping
prescription pages, nervously feeling
the hospital bracelet, you hear her voice
break like china when she asks if there’s
anything you could spare
to help her get home.
And you do,
because you’ve still got a little
small town innocence left.
Maybe you even still assume the best in people,
that liars never look you in the eye
when fabricating fables, it’s a hard and fast rule
like how if you don’t move a muscle
a T Rex won’t make you an appetizer.
And after the lady stumbles off the skytrain
the doors close, train rumbles on
you start to think;
why didn’t I give her more?
I could’ve jumped off at the station, hit the ATM
made sure she had cab fare and then some.
And then the harder voices
caw and murmer
“But what if you just got got?
What if that was some of the most
masterful storyspinning we’ve
It was worth a few dollars, but
it isn’t worth your heart.”
And that’s the point that sticks
the hardest in the ribs.
I’m not sure which is worse;
the idea that I just got played
like a cheap accordion in a travelling show,
or the notion that someone out there
would throw acid at someone’s grandmother
for a couple purses
and an Aldo shoe box.
He holds the phone like it’s a firework
set to go off against his cheek
he knows this conversation should have
ended five minutes ago with a resounding,
“Enough. That’s it. Goodbye.”
He looks like a Morrissey song
all grown up and on antidepressants
and with a well-salaried position
doing something involving finance.
Shoes, socks, jeans, shirt, belt, jacket
are a rainbow of black
His hair is a black-toothed comb
knifing the air.
His fingers rattle the train car window
as he nods along with the conversation
that’s shaking him worse than
And despite all the brittleness
he carries in his face
he’s still a personal pipe-bomb
in a tin can soaring over
treetops and townhouses
and when he arrives at his destination
he’s going to make someone else’s day
hell. He’s bitten his tongue enough times
he could perform a blood transfusion
with a kiss, could spit crimson
at your excuses, loose some savagery
in a living room after two bourbons
and an old argument.
But whatever you’ve said to him
over the air in two minutes time
have taken this black bull down
to a lacerated, loping beast
who just wants the show to be over.
I don’t know what kind of darts you throw
I don’t know which words of mass destruction
you put in his ears, but if anything
it pinpoints the shaky place we go
when we’re robbed of power, left sitting
on a train to New Westminster
with a catapult heart and nothing left
The man’s got five days worth of trouble on his face and his eyes but it’s leftovers, he’s been clean for some time now, though how long I cannot glean because he darts and dashes over that fact on the phone to another soul from his halfway home who just took a hard fall off the wagon after six shining months.
The skytrain cars are packed with the morning crush with their eyes down into their smartphones and their Daily Extra’s and I’m no better but the guy on the phone doesn’t have an inside voice or a filter as he goes on about the influence of this girl and that dude and the trouble they bring to their tables, schooling the voice on the other end of the line about the company he keeps, a constant push and pull, the I-told-you-so’s springing out alongside the admission that yeah, he wasn’t much better that long ago.
And as the conversation pulls up to a close as we hit Lougheed Station, the scolding yields to sincerity as he rounds it all off with a simple, elegant “Just keep your chin up, man. I love you. We’ll meet up for java soon, you know, coffee.” And then the doors roll open and we all pour out in a solid uncaring drove towards the escalators and the busses and then back to our cellphones and bad daily rags and bad science fiction and huddling as low as we can possibly huddle. Even couples stay as silent as they can, fingers entwined, walls up, sentries out for any intruders that might breach their sanctuary until they get back to their tenth-floor condo that blocks out the clamour and the grime.
But hearing that phone conversation makes me wish people gave a damn a lot more in public.