21 Stations

7 train, Long Island City, 2013

[Listen to the poem]

Times Square


I sit on the 7 train, penciling amoebas, mocking up

a print set called ‘Three Worlds.’ Sleepy Iowans

drift past parked cars at a Navy recruiting booth

under a spiral of stars, where three roads meet.

Today no car bombs nor happy carolers

from Les Miserables, no soldiers’ families here

to spread word of an end to fires in Najaf.


This is a fish lung of the city, Yoko Ono

is reminding us to hide till we forget--

nearby’s an Odditorium, The Lion King.

My daughter’s clocked out as an usher

at a Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit and I smile

to remember our hike in the Judean Hills,

waiting for Moses and Aaron. Broadway’s


auctioning stuff: rifles, rice wine, rigatoni.

There’s an afterglow where Hamilton was

musket-balled by Burr, tugboats riverside,

sun rising over the Big Duck of Flanders,

with Shinnecocks out oystering North Sea.

I‘ll ride this entire subway line, beside me

in a car a Sri Lankan guy reads Nietzsche.

Bryant Park


Underground, dioramas of the Eocene accompany

a sea of wires, an Ethernet, panhandlers, where

I’m pushed along with commuters who ponder

thoughts of sleep. A lot of jobs are waiting

for those who see beyond the soggy tickertape.

Ovenbirds nest at the public library, where

under trellises of grape a trove of books


and manuscripts endures. Gilgamesh, Sappho,

Lyle the Crocodile and Go, Dog, Go! The Flowers

of St. Francis to speak to crows, a Red Book

Guide to Queens and every tale by Coetzee

cutting a swath of fury at an early brunch.

My lighthouse, my library of Alexandria,

I love you like a lamb, your labyrinths and


doors, your cabinets of curiosity on view!

It’s here I sleep away time’s tapping, near

Teepee Town once selling Hopi trinkets,

crowds mobbing automats, Mercy Ships

doling out party hats on New Year’s Eve.

As the train moves off towards Flushing,

I’ve got my book of maps on Archenland.


Grand Central


Battling traffic, Twitter, truth and joie de vivre,

I catalog cacophony as it scatters into dust,

like a rusty subway car in atriums of acorns,

an Internet of Things: a Seiko pocket watch,

a lilac necktie, an almanac, a cricket in a cage.

This is Grand Central, a tribute to Palladio,

Nick Cave, a parliament of fools, a teething


one-year old, a keeper of the rocks, a shy

commuter out of Rye who’s come too late.

On Platform 47, we hear Schubert fugues.

A barrette up track gives off a smell of lye.  

Remember concourse backlit signboards?

Jungle landscapes and on the Plain of Jars

there are desiccated desert palms, mangos,


cottages under a Rio rainbow sunset. Now

I’m Mercury, slayer of Argos, god of traffic,

thieves, temptations, lost in a maze of foot

and hoof, straphangers queuing for a 7:42,

gawkers outside Bolivar Tobacco, ospreys

circling at the Daily News. A sudden lurch,

our local heaves into a river of forgetfulness.


Vernon - Jackson Avenues


Cars lurch up from Steinway Tunnel, screeching

to a halt at Café Henri, by sumacs at the mouth

of Newtown Creek, where feral cats in cubbies

dream of Annapurna fires along a lake. We pass

the carcass of a lorry full of peanut oil and piss,

oats, cargo rice on barges buffeted by a wind.

Oaxaca mariachis are strumming Cielito Lindo,


Uzbeks scatter flash cards and mutter oaths.

Lovers kiss in a pickup, dreaming of Baucis

and Philemon, a tale of metamorphosis, oak

and linden intertwined amidst a god’s rebuke.

Nature walks uncover petroglyphs, a theology

of sky, and tons of orange concentrate set by.

We watch dram boats hug the coast, a dolphin,


who’s lost her compass, makes her way upriver.

We stop for tea, a girl in frog boots doodling.

We see Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 (Bright Lode Star),

a satellite spun from the Korean DMZ, where

Manchurian ibex lurk. Long Island City paper

wasps, a water tower boasting Save the Palestine.

As we pass by, the Pulaski drawbridge opens.

Hunters Point


We strap-hang in the fastest-growing borough,

Burnt Mill Hill, kettle ponds, Arbitration Rock.

Lost in our devices, our secret searches, we turn

the long curve of the 7 train as it veers past P.S. 1,

twin spires, an old charcuterie, a Czech beer hall,

stone cemeteries and a gurgling Sunswick Creek.

We peer at many-windowed Sunshine Biscuits,


Swingline Staples, a Breyer’s ice cream sign,

billboards collapsing into Sunnyside Yards.

We whiff the Tom Cat Bakery, the birth of

each loaf of rye, every hand-me-down cake

or nut croissant as a plan to end all hunger. 

We spy the cantilever trusses of the bridge,

see hi-rise butterfly farms of 2030, eked out


of back-lot peas, with watercress, cabbage,

radishes, tomatoes, carrots, kale and kelp.

We watch the freighters Cherokee, Adriatic,

bound for seal pup slaughter in the Arctic.

We thirty pilgrims rally to ride the 7 train,

pass Five Pointz with its graffiti, with none

of the woes of Collect Pond across the river.


Court Square


At Court Square, we stop at artists’ studios,

one with paintings of Queens Street names:

Palermo Street, Farmers Boulevard, Utopia

Parkway, Linnaeus Place and Jagger Lane.

We pilgrims listen to bits of the 167 tongues

that are spoken here, ask for alms, excuse

lies, beg pardon, profess a lifelong passion.


We overhear an ancient dream, where a boy

goes hunting for Ice Age rocks, discovering

a granite outcrop at Twelfth and 43rd, where

a battered Mustang with no windshield rots.

By shoals where Mispat squaws would seine

for shad and sturgeon, I kayak Arbor Day,

keel over in river muck, squelch into bones


of my ancestor, Eliphalet Nott, a minister

who turned this shoreline into gold, sold

off lots to rum joints and caulk distributors.

Starfish creep by dockside carts of oranges:

at Court Square we pause to breathe, unsure

what a few Tokyo scribblers are up to, as we

jolt from one side of the world to the other.


Queensboro Plaza


Our Auckland ostler sucks on mineral water,

musing on death-by-fire and a Jet Blue sign.

Across a platform from our curious crowd,

a bride in a flowery dress takes photos for

her abuelo in Honduras, of family, factories

for horse-drawn carriages and fighter planes.

Beyond the bike lane, a field of yellow tulips,


the arc of a Q train bending towards Astoria.

A crawler excavates a pit for a Quality Inn,

parrots perch in pears near public housing

and hawkers mob the bridge before a storm.

Our crew sips beer, like logical philosophers,

thinking of islands on the moon, wondering

why big works won’t bring fame, till a train


arrives and we journey to the east, high heels

catching at concrete on the plaza. Fire engines

shriek. Our Catalan composer and Hollis cop

take turns nagging the urban archaeologist, as

he’s undercharged us for our five-hour tour.

We settle and head off towards Aviation High.

The air is thick with the smell of Turkish coffee.


33rd Street - Rawson Street


We descend the ornate, Roman viaduct, keyed

to traffic on the Boulevard of Death, a Harley

headed for Aqueduct and spewing gritty soot,

exhaust enough for a yearly carbon footprint.

We hear minor scales fluttering from a condo

window, where a child saws away at mazurkas

of Scriabin. At the high school, teens crank up


a Cessna Mescalero for a senior project. We fall

into single file past Sugar Land and a botanica,

to reach Connolly’s Dog & Duck, for a burger

and a black and tan before we stroll a bamboo

grove at Sunnyside Gardens, a utopia for bees.

An HVAC guy and his wife, a MOMA curator,

joke with the urban archaeologist (with a career


lying in ruins), as he jerry-rigs a staff, leads us

to blueberry bushes, locusts, trees-of-heaven.

We go to Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop co-op

known for lettuce, beets, its panoramic view.

On Skillman Avenue, magnolias are in bloom,

a World Banana truck is stalled, cups clinking

in a patio apartment that we may never enter.

40th Street - Lowery Street


We pass through a station without stopping, famous

for its weed walk, where burdock, spurge, mulberry

and lungwort are found in grass lots by McDonald’s,

where a pre-war wrestling arena stood when Ronnie,

our librarian, was seventeen, preparing for a prom.

Our attention is fixed inwards or on engineers

who plot a revolution in the city as a pinnacle


of everything. Shift workers in orange vests,

with drills for track repair in hand, dream of tar

on bridges in Duluth. Monks chat with a masseuse,

then questions come: on 9/11, where were you? 

One was in the towers-- now an angel in heaven,

a mother glued to a phone, connected to nothing.

Our artist ran into flames as a wave of people


poured north, now she eyes people in our car

to gather sketches: a bodybuilder, a tennis team,

a prodigal daughter and a copyist without a job,

a host of weary passengers holding onto poles.

Mets fans chatter their way to a double header,

women read El Diario, China Press and Irish Echo.

We rush on haltingly towards foxes in Forest Park.


46th Street - Bliss Street


Our African actuary has never been to Woodside,

says that it feels like dormitory towns near Accra,

with textiles, plywood, processed foods or cocoa,

all but cricket fields, ant hills and Gold Coast Sea.

We walk the boardwalk to New Calvary, where

100,000 bodies were exhumed, ferried, re-buried,

making way for Gilded Age machine tools, trains,


steam pumps, robber barons and fresh arrivals.

Our vet says there are more dead than living:

can they talk, see shapes of our modern city?

We lunch at Triangle 54, a VFW shrine to all

the wars, to all our home and foreign sacrifice.

We pass turnstiles at Ruhe’s Wild Animal Farm,

what’s left of an exotic zoo, a vaccination stop


for imported animals, a crate stop for Barnum

and Bailey, for American circuses and zoos,

for pythons, rhinos, for Hashish the Camel

of Coney Island’s ‘Streets of Cairo’, tapirs,

a pyramid of Pomeranians, a talking crow.

We’re awed by the wonder, violence, greed

of this dear land we call our global village.


52nd Street - Lincoln Avenue


Merton says we must clamber up Difficulty Hill

to get to a city of God, to find rebirth in an oak--

where an opossum’s been stuck now for an hour,

a crowd gathered by an El train at Lincoln Avenue.

It’s a giant mouse, says a guy from Haiti, a tot takes

out his slingshot to try to coax the critter down.

Birders gaze at the gasping clump of fur, forget


they were pointing out orioles on a fire escape.

Traffic comes to standstill at this sight, lindens 

damaged by icy winds, our troupe of pilgrims

ogling a bent Subaru under chain-sawed trunks.

Somebody says there’s a snake below a manhole,

maybe not Loch Ness monster, for sure a boa.

Benign neglect, wicked cold, mindless thinking:


we’re tired, we want to take a train at Roosevelt.

We sit in sphagnum moss and count out nickels

for the never-ending fare of Indonesian noodles,

Greek kebabs, Irish corned beef, Polish blintzes,

Delhi curry, Oaxaca tacos with lime and jalapeño.

We meet at 52nd Street to swap our travel notes,

an actor asks if we can visit the Queens Museum.


61st Street - Woodside


Planes fly low over this express subway stop,

look at the whites of the eyes of a stewardess,

buckled in for a landing at LaGuardia. And she

sees a prison bus on a bridge to Rikers Island,

a stack of coffins at an edge of a potter’s field.

Woodside Books opens its rolltop door, kids

picking out Nintendos for a ride to Montauk.


We get out and go down to Donovan’s pub,

steps from a chestnut tree, used for public

proclamations in the Revolutionary War.

Springs trickle runoff in what’s left of a

filled-in cabbage swamp, where a tow path

ran through apple orchards to a dance hall.

A copper beech stands by bygone trolleys,


Malays, Filipinos and Peruvians take pride

in backyard gardens for better days ahead.

The Fresh Pond plank road’s gone, it’s now

the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, limos

bumping along its pot-holed pavements.

We meet at Delgado Travel, head next to

Trains Meadow, the land of the rising sun.


69th Street - Fisk Avenue


We get off the train to see The Great Gatsby

on a nearby rooftop venue, just at sunset.

In 1930, a ride from Great Neck to the city

meant passing the Valley of the Ashes, its

piles of burning trash, like Dead Horse Bay

in Brooklyn, a dumpsite for retired mares.

We load back on at Fisk Street, notice a


Lenape in a beaver hat, in town to claim

the land that once was fisheries for trout.

Here, young Martha Peterson, African-

American, succumbed to smallpox, found

buried in an iron coffin. Farmworkers

from Quogue loiter at a deli, our video

salesguy tries to make a film about a ride


on the Third Avenue El before its end.

An express rolls by on flyover tracks,

locals shunting off to the Corona yards.

On a Thai café patio, we drink Beer

Lao with catfish and papaya, celebrate

our liberty to explore the boroughs, the

Lenape Indian still with us on the train.


74th Street - Broadway


In Jackson Heights, streets are full of cardamom,

pony-tailed twins are wildly playing Andean flutes.

We tape them and share it with Barbara’s brother

in Berlin, who, laughing, says he’s seen them mad

along Kurfurstendamm. Music travels over time,

in waves of loneliness or grief. I take our pilgrims

to the Chateau, where gardeners weed out violets.


We meet Teddy, a sixteen-year-old whippet, race-

track vet, whose eyes are glazed with utter joy.

Some of us try on saris, savor goat in Little India,

enter a shop where you can buy a house in La Paz

a dollar at a time. Farsi poets sit, discussing cosmic

wheels and crosswords. We sometimes take a bus

from here to Jamaica Bay to walk, talk, watch owls


and the projects in East New York. Eider ducks,

merlins, a coconut husk washed up on the shore.

This is station stop fourteen, our Via Dolorosa,

where you can watch a hundred soccer games.

At Roosevelt and 79th, we hold our ears, a dairy

truck backfires, cars honk, a train above us roars.

In Jackson Heights, discos have replaced the ponds.


82nd Street - Jackson Heights


We’ve lost members of our group to chest colds,

one with a colicky ten-month old with bluish eyes

like agate, but we press on to Junction Boulevard,

recounting walks in search of no one can say what,

from Fuji to Athos or Rumi’s tomb, Little Sparta,

Lourdes, making the Hajj to Mecca, Burning Man

or Walden Pond, to Our Lady of Guadalupe or


Thomas Jefferson. And why? We pilgrims think:

to learn, to shout, undo, reframe, enjoy or smile.

Hopkins says it’s a process of unselving, letting

ego go, listening to chaos, letting words flow.

I walk to St. Marks Church, where worshippers

intone “I thirst,” much like how I start a poem,

startle a feeling into the shape of ice or icebergs.


I stroll to Northern Boulevard, a carriage road,

to see a spire on downtown’s Freedom Tower.

I love to list the unnecessary things: fabulous

noses, cracked corn, slippery eels, oarfish gills,

elephant tusks, horse dung, hoary bats, cellar

doors, uninvited mice, you get my point if you

can read this, but I’ve lost my train of thought.


90th Street - Elmhurst Avenue


Known for Newtown apples, Elks Lodge, tea

shops, Geeta Temple, United Sherpa Church,

the neighborhood is what a Cuban sociologist

calls lower middle class, with aspirations bent

to bride price, bocce, bar mitzvah, dragon boats

and Holi, a Hindu festival of colors. Shanties

here were a housing blight that lives on today.


Once gas tanks here were seen from the LIE,

answering a child's eternal cry: Are We There Yet?

But now we’ve got urban zones, crowds, a shock

to William Levitt, the father of suburbia, whose

cookie-cutter Levittown transformed the nation.

Raccoons, starlings, occasional spiny porcupines

straddle a once-green belt between these worlds.


We search for the neighborhood of Lena Horne,

noticing the names that mask the trauma of

poverty and crime: Kew Gardens, Floral Park.

In East Elmhurst, Malcolm X lived with his girls,  

a man in search of truth by trials of civil rights,

his house bombed in 1965, before he lost his life.

On a sidewalk, we see a man kneel at call to prayer.

Junction Boulevard


I drift into daydream as we leave Elmhurst,

channeling Neil Young on a Greendale tour,

my family sitting on a Foxboro hillside, we

three at once enjoying everything together.

Junction Boulevard reveals a sunken house

of worship, a Lares deli, ‘hood hoops, lilies.

We amble past a Tiffany’s furnace works


where tea sets mimic a Roman Syrian glass

of gold, turquoise blue. Outside a Salumeria,

we hear steel drum calypso at set-back family

homes forgotten by a string of mayors. Train-

spotters come: Lucien, who’s ten, enumerates

train car types in Redbird Reef, an archipelago

in Slaughter Bay, in Delaware, where 7 trains


go down to die with tanks, barges and a ton

of Firestone tires, its green waters home

to barnacles, horseshoe crabs and squid.

We meet Olivia who’s writing of carusi boys

who toiled in sulfur mines in Agrigento:

our herpetologist is moved, says he’ll tune

up his search for the chorus frog of Queens.


 for Dorothy Schmiderer Baker


103rd Street - Corona


Blocks to Lemon Ice King and Flushing Meadow

Park, Brazilian Adventists, Our Lady of Sorrows,

Louis Armstrong lived on 107th Street, but played

in Storyville, San Francisco, Quebec, Cameroon

and Congo. His smile, his style, his big heart

and gravelly voice put joy into jazz. He charmed

children on his stoop, as well as Marilyn and JFK


and the King of Thailand (on the sax).

‘Meet Me in Paris’ floods from a bedroom,

a turntable spins his song of beans and rice.

We sit in a garden as honeysuckle blooms,

robins timing their worms to his melodies,

all of us taken by the cheery lilt, as ghosts

of Ellington, Ella usher in. I close my eyes


and hear his ‘Melancholy Blues’ as it soars

into space with the Voyager space probe,

together with Bach, bagpipes, shakuhachi,

gamelan, as well as dog barks, code taps,

photos of Pluto, pictures of nursing mothers,

a spiral diagram of dancing sperm and ovum.

Reeling off into ether, 100 million miles away,

it’s Satchmo’s blues that help us journey on.


111th Street


Bjork’s busy conducting humpback whales

at the Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows,

where rockets languish, no more blasting

to outer space to mine crater dust on Mars.

I take a photo of my niece, the Unisphere

as backdrop, her thoughts very far away.

A trylon and a perisphere stood here for


the World’s Fair, a testament to engineers

who rebuilt factories from the inside out.

Superman flew in and Coolidge’s hippo

Billy came, as well as Elektro, a talking,

smoking robot, a merry-go-round for

milking cows, a time capsule for 6939.

Here the U.N. met to partition the Holy


Land, hoping for the grace of Solomon.

I love Guston’s WPA fresco, signaling

a return to public works, a community

understanding, a theme for the next fair

my family visited when I was six. There

were Belgian waffles, Sinclair’s dinosaur,

a gloom in the car foreshadowing a divorce.


Mets - Willets Point


The thirteen blocks between Citifield and the river

have no sidewalks, sewers, but lots of palsied dogs

who are yelping at the moon. Chop shops, car

parts, iron works in a triangle of puddle muck,

a Third World just minutes from the city’s heart.

Sex shops, pimps, deadbeat dads who skip bail.

Two machinists, Rudi and Zizek, pound hubcaps


into useful life. Junkies sleep. The single resident,

a Joseph Ardizzone, like Timon of Athens curses

his enemies as he doesn’t want to move, to make

way for more House of Spices stores or shopping

courts that call to mind a Mall of Emirates, with

Ski Dubai, fountains of fireworks, a petting zoo.

Maybe a stadium for Maradona? A pushcart rolls


off a corrugated roof past barrels burning trash.

Urine pools near yellowlegs wading in the creek.

This is the urban Land of Oddiyana. We don’t

get off, we stay true to our goal of Main Street.

A man gestures out at cirrus clouds beyond what

once were peonies for as far as the eye could see,

still a good spot to detail your Lincoln Continental.

Flushing - Main Street


We’ve reached the end, we don’t know where to go.

I thank our guide, search out the Weeping Beech,

beehives in the Botanical Garden, a Paris bakery,

and Biang!, a Xi’an noodle shop where we hear

thieves’ tales Mao loved in All Men Are Brothers,

in the land of Lao-tse, in dynasties of hundred-

year-old eggs near sprouting factory towns like


Sock City, Underwear Village, Necktie Bend.

Roads lead to the Remonstrance, a Quaker plea

to Peter Stuyvesant to allow their silent worship.

We sip tea at an Afghan eatery, where we meet

our final penitent, a vet just returned from war.

She recalls a memory of vanishing, and happy

kids, rolling metal hoops and skipping stones


off a pontoon bridge on the Kabul River. I sit

by the Amadeus Music School, a bus stop for

the Bronx, and ‘7 Train Tattoo,’ musing on

how we survived the Toba human bottleneck

or end up chasing bats in Flushing, as I put

a bristle of oil enamel to a painted sign, just

as I place a period to punctuate this final word.


for Arthur Smith, 1913-1999


22 Stations (Coda to 21 Stations)


I'm sitting in Brooklyn's Shakespeare Garden,

listening to a Chinese erhu. Far from Queens,

I wonder how to adjust my 21-line poems

of the stations of the 7 train, to a 22nd stop

just built at Hudson Yards, sprouting out of

tunnels for the poor like mushroom spores

and native plants up on the High Line. But


it’s Toshiko Mori's teardrop bud that’s burst

from elevated tracks where my friend from

Budapest and I would roam our West Side

piers, eating blinis at the Cheyenne Diner.

We combed the streets for hand-me-downs

and walked for miles as there was no train.

The subway stop, built for 2012 Olympics


that never came to be, is a go-to in itself.

It’s raining here, and in a park downtown

in Saint-Denis, Réunion, where another

friend is introducing a bill on climate

change to government. It’s also pouring

at the 34th-Hudson Yards station, across

the bay, end of the line for our tomorrows.



Bannister’s Landscapes

Edward Mitchell Bannister was among the earliest Rhode Island landscape painters, the first African American artist to win national recognition, and a founding member of the Providence Art Club. His landscapes showed the influence of the Barbizon style, an awareness of the Hudson River School, and the developing Impressionist movement.

His work was steeped in a Romantic spirit and an emotional response to nature. Bannister’s words provide a link between his private vision and the streets of bustling Providence, the Art Club, and the soon-to-be Pen and Pencil Club. They provide a gloss on his bucolic scenes of harmony and quiet.  Bannister was not a wordsmith, but he was an active member of Providence public life as well as an accomplished and well-known painter.

The titles of his landscapes create a simple and beautiful narrative that underscores a need to ‘capture’ the disappearing agrarian life of Southern New England but also recognize the growth of cities and industry. For the booming mills that changed the face of 19th century life throbbed just upriver from his favorite ponds and pastures.


The Largest Glue Factory in the World

This series of poems looks at the smells, sights, sounds of mid-nineteenth century America, in New York (around Newtown Creek, Brooklyn) partially through the eyes of Peter Cooper, at once inventor, abolitionist and candidate for the U.S. Presidency, pre-Gilded Age self-made man, railroad, steel, and manufactory entrepreneur and social reformer interested in the rights of working men and women, but also a grand polluter of the New York waterways.

The 14-line, 14 poems use a loose sonnet form, and echo the Persian ghazal (using the name of a persona within the poem), with an emphasis on the smelly things we pass by every day, living in the city.


21 Stations

’21 Stations’ evokes lives and music and history along the 21 stations of the 7 train, the 167 languages spoken there, journeying EAST out of the city. The poem is inspired by Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. This piece formally was a set of 21, 21-line poems, which I call sonnets-and-a-half. It is about the patchwork quilt of culture across Queens as seen in the river of commerce, reflection, and imagination of the 7 train.

It features a meditation by Mercury, the god of travel, thieves, temptation, and toy trucks, including two World’s Fairs (red trolley cars now coral reefs for fish and squid in Delaware), shadows of Louis Armstrong, Malcolm X, and porcupines and ibises from Levittown to Aviation High School, to cobbled lanes for Farsi poets, Italian shoemakers, and temple elders from Tibet.

The poem goes on to reflect on Korean car parts men, chop shops, intellectuals, mad urban planners, the history of the demise of the American farmyard (and our Native American heritage), retooled lives, abuelas from Honduras, lawyers from Indonesia, drummers from Bangladesh, Columbian hairdressers, mobsters, and drag queens, Nepalese shamans, rooftop kale farmers, baby carriage pushing Dads and golf-course gardeners.

Thirty pilgrims set out from Times Square to wend their ways to the Weeping Beech in Chinatown, in Flushing, where bats can still be seen in belfries. Over the course of writing this series, they added a station at Hudson Yards, making it the uneven ’22.’ My ‘Coda (21 Stations)’ addresses this.

© 2013