Michael Vitaly

theatre maker, writer, artist

Category: travel

Underground again

Hurling between stopping and starting
We clatter grind and chug along
The depths of this L track.

And bones collapse beneath the weight of plain old gravity
Muscles and tendons and sinews unknown
The levels as lists are endless no doubt
For learn well within you
And far out you’ll go
As easily as treading through the beast of the sea.

Hurling forward at a steady clip
Towards Brooklyn we right go
Seven or so I can’t look up
Gravity’s got my ears.
(And I swallow to pull them back down).

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Just a stanza.

Coasters fall from hands of youths
Like petals from white blossoms,
Stolen by a summer wind
Far off long ago.

This little grey book

I’ve carried so long,
This little grey book I dropped and lost
Some time ago.

into the night

Into the Night

I ramble over pressed concrete
aside asphalt plastered thin over dirt,
and under trains overhead.
I cling to the few steps left to my door –
I remember the time I lose.

I ramble, through the sounds as I sit here.
Lone car speeding by, and now the shuttle
hurling towards me and then
percussively coming to a slow stop,
sounds of letting off steam, a short squeal,
and it whispers off I assume for I don’t hear it anymore.

I ramble, with my eyes out this window,
up the brickwork across the way to the lighted windows,
shades parted, fluorescent light from within.
Their neighbor above them has gone to bed.
Orange floods in through the slats in the fence and
I remember gold concrete swaths painted by rain,
that morning I woke up to need to shut the windows.

I ramble through my memory of that morning,
and I remember what it felt like to wake up alone.
I walk to my bedroom for no particular reason,
at least I had forgotten by the time I arrived –
my train of thought derailed
as I passed the open window in the living room
hearing a woman in ecstasy.  Two long moans,
reverberating off that brick and concrete.

I ramble to the window in my imagination
and the world is darkened by the night
but illuminated by the orange and white.
There she is through the slats in that window,
through the Venetian blinds, see her figure?
No, maybe she’s in the apartment right above?
But the sound is gone now and she would remain a sound.

I ramble in the silence of this night,
and another train passes
hurling then slowing like a flap in tap dancing.
A sixteenth note followed by an eighth.
Fa-lap, fa-lap, fa-lap, fa-lap.
The shuttle train is only two cars long.

I will ramble in a moment,
over pressed concrete and asphalt
plastered thin over dirt, clinging to the unknown –
remembering the time I lose while rambling
and rambling and rambling into the night.

The moth and the drums

The drums had stopped.  A vivid bailable non-cantable that was emanating through the ceiling joists above as if through invisible speakers.  Through the soot my eye would travel erased of time and space.  Just part of the riff and the raff underground at this hour.  This now.  Traveling through the crowds and over platforms skimming third rails and sneaking pictures with my pen.  These people so varied.  This time so unique.  And down flutters this little moth I’m not sure from where, in and out of sight through eyelids blinking fast or an old 8mm film.  I follow her through the black, lost in white, in and out of dark and light.  I turn my head to see the clamor coming up the stairs losing sight of the moth.

“Saddle up, it’s part of the draw,” I sort of say with my eyes as I admired the Delsey luggage being dragged by a sternly focused brunette.  I used to have a suitcase like that but mine was black not blue.  They had come the long flight and a half up from the tunnel to the 7 and the A, C, E.  They seemed an unhappy pair, these Twentysomethings.

Faces flushed and about to burst with sweat, readying themselves, barely off the landing above the last stair, they stood stopped but swaying, with inertia no doubt, huffing and puffing. “I’ve been there,” I think but do not say  a thing (sometimes it’s nice just to not connect at all — to watch from afar).  They were now firmly settled and the girl with my luggage had gone over the bumpy yellow strip along the open tracks now, greeting danger with reverie, dancing up a storm until, “What!?” she exclaimed off the scoff of her friend throwing her hands up in the air like waving surrender, and then the drumming stopped.  As if the drumming-older-brother-upstairs got wind of the merriment being had downstairs to his cathartic concerto, and snatched the groove from under our feet.  And it was just like that, the drums had stopped and this little moth, it must’ve been a moth, fluttered rather gracefully downward below my line of vision — intersecting animalistic purity into the mix of human movement.

Fluttering from left to right in pulsing plosives while streaming forward almost bubbling, like spilled soda over a kitchen countertop, She ran smooth but popping bubbles along the way. “There she goes..” I think, “and where did she come from?”

Where is she off too?

Did the drumming rock her loose from her shroud of slumber?  Did she reside in the invisible speaker of raw acoustics along the strips of black?  Or is her home above the lights where no one really looks?  Maybe there’s a little nestled nook where she does hide, inside part of an old sweater found in the lost and found, there’s an old copy of the Economist lying around, with cigarette butts strewn beside.  The hearth of the work room pipes greeting hisses to her every day when she would return home.

Her wings, white and clear, but through a silken screen stretched thin.  There she flew before me.  Flap and stutter, glide and flutter.  Capillaries.  Concrete.  Lost in fluorescence.

 unfinished short story

 

The sweet and heavy smell of trash pervades the roof of my mouth. It was slowly nearing nine in the morning, and I was walking west towards Times Square at 46th street, which was already a bustle and tussle of tourists and suits. The morning’s subtle splendor that befalls the city at dawn had fallen hard by now, and in its place was

I stopped moving a block or so away and noticed a puddle on the ground, nestled on the corner alongside a high concrete curb. A building ripples with the warm breeze, swaying gently on the asphalt, while across the street life-size fuzzy cartoon characters stand idly by, their dirt and greed veiled by goofy painted smiles.

I make my way down to the one train against a flood of those just departed. “Where do you think you’re going?” Says one with his eyes. “You just missed it — what’s your hurry!?” cries one with his shoulder. I slow to barely walking letting gravity take my legs as I make my way down the short staircase. It’s hotter underground, I think and continue against the wind that burns my eyes and ears. Indeed, the dragon had just departed.

I make my way against the stragglers from the front of the train, who are obviously in no hurry, and I sit at the furthest seat on the furthest bench. I lower my head and close my eyes, because of that hot wind I had walked all this way through mostly closed lids. I hear a drummer across the way, thumping and clanking, slow yet melodious rapping against empty trash cans or paint buckets, but the beat remained fixed in a way that seemed odd, so I scanned the opposite platform across the four sets of tracks and saw a woman in grey work clothes wheeling a huge trash barrel on wheels, thumping and clinking against the grooves in the cement, thump-clink-clink and a long drag. Thump clink clink drag… (No drummer at all, just the music of work and the sounds of refuse.)

Still sitting on the bench I hear, “Because of a train derailment at 125th street…” The announcement came buzzing loudly from the ceiling, and I noticed an elderly woman next to me covering her ears, preparing for an auditory onslaught. Then I saw it. The train across the way, the downtown express, came hurtling towards us. The woman’s eyes remained fixed on the metal spirit as it launched into the air, and they shone bright against its flickering lights. Clank clank thrash! The two ton monstrosity ripped towards us making shreds of itself against intermittent metal poles like silver cheese through an industrial grater. Grumbling whirling wheeling and squealing. Flecks of metal, bits of glass are whizzing past but all I could hear was this dark and heavy drone, like a dying whale, like a mechanical sigh. Thrashing overhead, heaving itself like a lost soul expelled from centuries of oppression, that sound rained down as the train moved so slowly through the air. My eyes glued to one car in particular, one set of eyes within the car as the train moved slowly towards us, a young girl moved off her seat, through the car. Car and girl into the air. Her eyes raised and revealed no terror, just a slow and steady recognition with a mouth slightly agape.

She had on a black dress with small white patches that looked like a photo-negative of a Dalmatian’s markings or puffy clouds in a moonless midnight sky. Her dress remained still, her eyes remained fixed, full and open. Her white wire headphones swayed forward gently and she glided like an astronaut through the car towards the window.

Upon impact, a floodgate was released and everything came crashing back to tempo. All the sounds that had been muted rang out loud and hard. A squealing descant of emergency brakes locking, vainly grabbing hold of the bits of track that it could. People screaming, on the platform in the train. And the train itself was a cacophonous symphony of destruction. Strange blasts of cold air from the cars’ air conditioning came whistling passed up and escaped like spirits through the sewer grate above.

It was like an assault. Heat and frigid air, deep drones and delirious descants, screaming and open-mouthed shock. It all came pressing against me.

 

ricocheting through time, like pinballs lost through shards of glass like stars flickering against dark soot-filled tunnel.

she — who was no longer a girl or woman but limbs and an expression of lost wonder.

blood like florescent lights surround vacant space on faces like masks of themselves, frozen in time.

 

lines from underground. moving.

 

I

ten car metal spirits
box car dragon tails,
breathing fire underground
swaths of smoke and hot air,
a squealing flight begins.

eyes like search lights
gullets cool and clammy,
climbing in
we wish to be moved
in one way or another.

strangers packed and eaten too
bitten by cause of movement,
together digested inside this beast
we stream on down the line.

they talk they swear
undead and unaware
they cling they climb
frozen in place and time.

brown painted bellies
by tracks so rusty
silver ‘neath the guise belies
the black and dusty
soot filled
rancid
putrid cold and old
spruced upon and painted too
they’re all the same
whether old or new.

in and out. all the same.
all within, naught’s to blame,
this city’s dirt lies within us all,
to ashes and dust we all will fall.

II

express trains pass
clanking dragons metal riding
spirits in heat screaming for freedom
perpetual timelessness underground
the wee small hours, the more you wait
in rushing hours, people populate.

there’s so much writing on the wall,
mindless drummers to heed whose call?
brick and tile slick with fluorescents
floors wet with vomit and humanoid essence

men layered thick with multiple tshirts
women reading the times stretched across two seats
one smells likes urine neither you’d like to meet.
dresses in summer satin
bare toes in dirty sneaks
i love new york and flannel patterns
buttoned up and wired too
thin ankles and wide thighs
another one to two seats.

chuck taylors and wing tipped shoes
fashion boots and flip flops ooze.
grown men beg for money
while pretty women deftly hide,
some look away some dig for change,
trying hard not to notice some rearrange
themselves and retreat inside themselves,
or to their phones pads and nooks
shirking guilt with frowning looks.

what a shame, get a job
scream the stares that are so quiet,
I’d like to help but I’m broke myself
mumbles my constant internal riot
the tunnel screams and mutes us all.

men with leering eyes and neatly pressed button downs
smell of cheap light beer and stare through the gowns
of sleeping beauties drunk with night
and others who stare ahead with fright

some are pressed so close to others
taking advantage with sensual smothers
lonely lusters and loose lanky loners
staring dumbfounded with if-only mental boners

everyone’s flush sweaty or tired
the rest seemed distressed
zombie-like, wired.
some push and shove
some smile meekly,
we’re all in this together
public transport underground,
but some see no feather
alike like they’re better.

hats and brands fly like flags.
while entitlement aches like pride,
lost white stripes and bands of red
and the stars you know drag
from storytales so dead.

III

Then beneath once again
You find a seat you find a friend,
Atop the soot, free from the rain,
The underground’s simple charm remains.
The express buzzes by
Clicks on through
Races high and out of view.
Nighttime concerts interrupt
Trombones and electric guitars.
Summertime and the livin’s easy,
Hush metal spirit
Let ‘em play, let him sing,
Stars shine on in
And ring a ding ding.

Out and in. All the same.
All without, but who’s to blame,
this city’s dirt lies within us all,
ashes to ashes we all will fall.

blue painted skies
by dreams so dusty
silver ‘neath the guise belies
the brown and rusty
smoke filled
gusty
insipid hot and fresh
pissed upon and painted too
they’re all the same
whether old or new.

some talk some swear
undead and unaware
all cling and hang until
frosty whistles — exit — shrill.

strangers packed and eaten too
bitten by cause of movement,
together digested inside this beast
we stream on down the line.

eyes like search lights
gullets cool and clammy,
climbing in
we wish to be moved
in one way or another.

ten car metal spirits
box car dragon tails,
breathing fire underground
swaths of smoke and hot air,
a squealing flight

for some it stops for some it begins
moving, moving.

All the time.