Michael Vitaly

theatre maker, writer, artist

Category: underground

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).

Mozart and the MTA

Something in the truth stirs the sound receptor in my mind and I only hear the sound of mumbled marbles through choking mouths — like when I rushed to my Harlem bedroom window after hearing a plane passing really low, hand to mouth, rushed and stood pressed to glass — I could only hear the rumble of plane and whir of my imagination. And this only a month ago.  I suppose it was nothing.  Or at least no one ever heard about it.  So whether violins or groans from underground brought me there it was something about the truth that stirred in me on this train headed to lots of places.

But now all I hear is the “routine” from a man in the subway.  He parked himself in the middle of this uptown 4 and immediately took to two children on the laps of their parents.  Now those kids are gone, scared off at Bowling Green with its orange painted brick stretch of walls, but the man continues, he’s moved up and down the train after apologizing for interrupting the day, the passage, the read, the concert etc. and has proceeded to entertain the train with imitation train noises for starters… This was actually met with delightful curiosity by the sister in a pair of children, whose haircuts were almost the same save a distinguishable few curls that sort of went through her head precociously, making her a cute but muppet-looking little rascal.  And as the doors closed they “chimed” together, the man and the kid, and the ultimate showman exclaims proudly but still in his gruff tone, “she’s my partner, ladies and gentlemen. One more time…” and she never repeated the sound.  Even I entertained the notion to help the faltering show. But he was fine, he was obviously some sort of falsetto genius and man about town — the underground town.  Now he’s on to jokes and has quite a few people laughing or at least smiling.  Even me through my Mozart, through it all.

I enjoy listening to Mozart underground because it seems to add a sense of driven purpose or at least justification for things I’ve seen down here. I like when the tender lush swells match a starting train before it catches hold of higher speeds.  And twinkling piano trills ringing against the sea of squeals and even now the train runs smooth and these strings rage onward through the dark layered forest.  The soot is a stream of midnight water and we go forth into the nothingness until the mechanics gives way to the logistics and the MTA fails Mozart.  But here again the flight of keys black and white, up and down, a confluence of birds like people, perched or running, never flying.  Reaching stretching all within Mozart’s grasp, it’s all within my grasp until even Mozart has to stop.  And the steady mechanics of the track click track click track click takes hold of my heart and steadies the chaos once more.

But whether it be truth or chaos. The subway and Mozart are great antidotes.

On the way to Atlantic

You were coming from work and as you left the train at Atlantic my eyes warmed over like yours had been warmed over, swelling to an innocuous jade and brown beneath the phosphorescence. I was crying your tears and the doors closed and I looked down to let them fall and instead of cold release, you came through me and it was like putting glasses on for the first time. Everything was washed clean, like a windshield wiper or a dish being pulled out of fresh cold water in one of those commercials but no dripping at all, and my face remained dry; it all soaked into me.

You were crying the minute I stepped into the train no doubt, because when I reached my seat across from you, you were wiping your eyes already.

It took me the entire ride to gather the courage to talk to you, and actually it was you who spoke first.  Coming over to the map behind me you peered through your big eyes that shined a sad glaze, and you stepped back still unsure.  I said, “what are you looking for?” at which you replied, “does this stop at Atlantic?”

After our exchange and my double checking the map, for I had just moved to a neighborhood along this line myself, the train was indeed headed to Atlantic.  To make matters better, God chimed in and announced as the conductor, “Stand clear.  Next stop Atlantic.”  We laughed and I came over next to you. “Are you alright?” “Oh, I’m fine,” you started and I continued, “because I saw you crying before and –” “well, yes…” and then we breathed.  I felt berated, for the blink of an eye, about my brazen observance. “It’s been a long day,” you offered and I sort of sigh an exhalation.  “I’m sorry” I seem to say, “uhhmmphh” I kind of mumble through a closed mouth “I’m really sorry to hear that.”

“I know what you mean,” I would’ve said, but I simply say “yeah…” and offer you my handkerchief which has been idly in my grasp for a few minutes now, since I had been back over on my side.  Since I wanted to help, but could only look over and wonder.  I did, while I was over on my side, ask God to “give me her pain.”  I’m not sure why but I do that from time to time.

You sort of laugh and entertains my offer with a generous wave and air of aristocracy and I smile too at the thought of having a handkerchief nowadays.  You smile through pressed lips and I do too.

Now the same handkerchief is in my hand again beneath my phone as I type this.  Anchors and rope, blue and red coil.  And in a wide cross-check pattern the rope goes through and through the white handkerchief lined in navy blue and thin lines of red.  We’re coming up from 14th street and I wonder about you.  I wonder if you have stopped crying?  Or if you’re having dinner yet?

I hope you’re doing well.  And yet I can’t help but think, “I wish I could’ve done more.”

 

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.

Underground

Gliding under years of progress,
clanking starting ever more
Catching hold of winter’s sadness
Letting go within the fold.

The Shepard takes your hand and guides you there,
the spirit lifts you up and lights your fire,
and think in the least and the father will provide.

Take these words from me
For I need some supplication,
Forgiveness for what I’ve done.
Nothing bad just lost the love of my life.

And there are moments in the shower or kitchen, this morning in particular,
When she comes to me in passing
As if she’s no ghost of memory at all
Just simply going to the bathroom in the morning.
There’s nothing wrong with that
She’s finding herself too.
Taking time for the things that need the most in life.
Yourself. Selfish as it may seem,
If we don’t take care of ourselves
How are we to take care of others?

The train takes over or at least interrupts.
81st street. Next stop will be yours.
And god leads me to total subconscious
Deliverance.
Taking me and making me feel you so far away.

Like ships between different currents
Wading deeper as we go
Hold me under I’ll tear asunder
The sail when it’s time to go.

And as we settle I view us passing
With the little dog upstairs
Just come from the park on our day off
In comes tourists and I’m underground again.

And do I tread, gliding.
Gliding into air. Air and space
A museum we’ve never been to together.
What are you up to now?

I wrote to you from the other side,
Did you receive my letter?
It was sent express over the wire
I’m sure it got lost in translation.

I’m off to get work.
And think of you.

There aren’t rocks to throw.
There are only rocks with which to build.

Underground

Bundled in fur, we were just leaving the fifth avenue station on an R train wading in the current of the third rail.

Always flirting with danger, needing to be too close like Icarus, wanting to know too much like Adam, I look into these people’s faces and listen to their stories.

Still and stoic with thin black gloves grasping metal poles like a harpoon staff against the wiles, with even thinner black heels to anchor her to ground. I am writing this as she subtly lifts up her left leg. Almost stretching against the unendurable events in this jungle made of stone.  And glass.  And mirth and blood and years of tears and floods.

A city of cleanliness and clandestine.  Of style girth an panache.

An here she was, wrapped in swaddling furs. Her face was what I noticed first. It was a blank canvas of features. Unconnected by muscles human.  Inside no doubt there raged a fire, even one so faint to be — not merely alive but a little bit free — of fear and woes from hunger or bigotry — but that heat beneath the icy exterior was a luminous veneer.

I have lost her now from the maddening crowds a quickening their pace and trace of earthly elements within their shallow chests.  My moon cut from alabaster.  My ocean of spectral sadness.

Approaching 14th street was like riding ledger papers during business meetings.  Or musical staves, lights flickering on happenstantial spaces along a rumbling bass line, your own train, like a monster hungry for music.  You invent a melody and it continues while you stop, beyond the mess of people gathered on the platform lighted anew, washing away old melodies still lingering in your head skipping through colorful swaths of the human palate.  And then a face interrupts you… or a real song does.

And in they come, the troubadours, “the ‘something’ harmonizers,” announcing their ways into your mornings with, “a little gospel tune — we like to do gospel hymns in the morning.”  And he sort of apologizes for his sore throat and they begin.

“This light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine.”

(And the girl standing in the foyer opens her mouth as if to have a conversation over the breakfast table.  Across from someone she knows, and has known for a long time, she coos quietly but I hear her, and I join her.)

This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”

Passed Rector Street, people blur behind glass and we reflect the tracks from both in the window ahead of me and this thick pane of glass just inches away.

and on the metal spirit underground once more..

A thunderstorm thrashes heartily against us. Blinded by the darkness save the respite of tile fluorescence, the unknown world outside these tubular metal walls and unseen storm that grumbles underfoot is sated and quieted, it seems, by mosaic symmetricality and strips of white lights and steel columns painted over.

There seems to be life between the storms that pass, between the patches of night and rotten dreams. But if you look close enough, as if awaking from a dream, there’s a world between the string of days. Texture towards the night.

Nary a world oft seen,
That lies right in between
The waking moments
And restless sighs,
The us that does release,
That looking in those eyes
Locks the torrents in surmise,
And quakes the lost within demise,
Of fear and trepidation — flight
Sans mediation,
And love — repudiation.

Just me.
At night.

 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.

 

 

The Express Train

A wind that rocks me back on my feet
Comes from the train that passes.

And as it slows I regain my balance
And I wait for the doors to open.

It’s been like that this City thus far,
Rushing and working and waiting.

I race out of the car propelling myself forward by the door’s edge.

I tend to run wherever I’m going.
As if someone is chasing me.

I rise from the Underground
Facing the Empire State Building,
But I don’t notice it today,
Today I keep my head down,
And my feet move quick against the traffic on wet pavement.

A cringe-worthy wind that makes others run for cover
Cuts around these buildings as I cut towards it.

And as it slows I’ve already turned the corner and pedestrian traffic slows.

Sparsely peppered with less shopper/tourists,
Rushing and working and waiting.

Weaving through and sashaying around, propelling myself by the wind’s edge.

I tend to slow when I get where I’m going.

I rose from the Underground
Facing the Empire State Building,
And I hear it underground again,
And I raise my head
My feet have reached the door, my hand has reached its handle.

The Train.

This City.

Rushing and working and waiting.

Quick against the traffic on wet pavement.

Weaving through and sashaying around, propelling myself by the wind’s edge.

I rise from the Underground,
But the Express Train
Rumbles on.