Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2022  Vol. 21  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
 print preview

It Is 6 p.m. on the 2 Train Downtown

and it smells like people too tired to stand standing anyway.
To say we are packed like sardines would be to lie

since sardines lay neatly next to each other while here, arms twist
under shoulders to hold onto a pole, armpits on heads

of the unfortunately short. It is the quiet of sensible shoes and dimes
in a pocket, almost everyone staring at a screen when suddenly

I hear a voice so flecked with anger
I see his grimace even though my eyes are closed

saying to someone, move your fucking bag, you’re too
fucking close to me. I wait for a response, hoping it too

will be steel or baritone and there is only the silence of people
watching. Again I hear, I said fucking move, and a sound

like a taut leather bag being punched, and I open
my eyes but I can see only a man’s ambitious belly

and no one is saying anything, not the proud men
in snapbacks and gym-stained shirts, not

the hulking people right next to the leather bag and still
I think, I won’t have to say anything, someone

will surely defend this woman who obviously can’t scoot over or find
another crevice to push her bag into because remember

it is 6 p.m. on a train downtown. I can hear him shoving her
and twist my neck around to see where they are or least catch

an eye that too is thinking about how to stop this and I
am a child again, barefooted in the kitchen watching my father’s fist make

a perfect arc, so when I say stop it, it is too quiet to weave
through the elbows and sneakers desperate to not

get stepped on so they don’t hear me anyway.
Sometimes I walk into the liquor store and the worker will say, what

can I help you with sir, and then stumble and apologize as if
they just decanted my favorite whiskey all over my new oxfords

or a person will stare at me too long in the mirror
in the bathroom before leaving with lipstick smeared

across teeth but no one thinks I’m a man
when I need them to, when I need the tenor or bulk to scare

someone away and all I can manage is a meek stop,
and I’m so angry that I have failed

as a survivor, failed as a child who wants to say I am nothing
like my father so when it’s time to get off the train and I see

the man is getting off the train too I shove him a little as we step
onto the platform and say, you shouldn’t have touched her

realizing I’m being a hypocrite which I also hate,
and he turns to me so quickly I already think I lost and shoves

me back into the train saying you stupid bitch
and I’m crying and hating that I am, hating

that there is no one to call me sir now,
that I haven’t been trained to fight back and I want

to say, you disgust me, you are why
I wear men’s clothes but never want

to be a man but all I do is turn back
toward the full car of people, still silent, still

pretending to look at their phones, and stare them down
until the door closes and the train pulls away.  

return to top