The Subway Riders – Kathleen McClung

(for Nancy Buffum)

For thirty years—a grain of sand—you paid
the storage fees by check a continent away
and made new art, a family, a home
with cats, toads, gulls of Ocean Beach. Your eyes
looked west—Pacific fog and sun and wave—
yet thirty portraits made by youthful hands

stayed east, confined, untouched by any hands
in tiny, padlocked, sunless room, displayed
for no one—critics, connoisseurs, or waves
of tourists at the Met. You made your way
to California, left in storage gray-green eyes
and turquoise jaws from tubes of paint, their silent home

a rented vault, not quite a foundling home.
You spoke of them sometimes, their faces, hands—
those passengers onboard a train with eyes
closed as in prayer, exhaustion. Their bills unpaid,
food stamps used up, some dreamed of beaches far away
from Brooklyn, dreamed of snowy plovers, waves

uncurling on cool sand. Back then you studied waves
of fellow subway passengers and brought them home
as best you could on canvas, found a way
to weave them to a wider dream. Your hands
praised people, Nancy, sleeping and awake. You paid
attention, paid a price: Jim Beam on ice

too many nights, a dulling of your fire bright eyes.
And so you left, abandoning New York heat wave,
your easel, all you made.  This year you paid
a visit, four of you, to liberate, bring home
companions left behind. Your daughters’ hands
and Joe’s and yours embraced graffitied trains of way-

farers who’d longed for sun and moon, stairways
to changing light of dawn and dusk.  New eyes
now greeted subway riders long-stilled, hands
in laps, in pockets. Hilary and Maeve—
almost your Brooklyn age—both welcomed home
their pensive kin, all storage fees completely paid.

iPhones in hands, we travelers now walk through waves
of light on Market Street and turn our gaze to those
from far away who paid a token to arrive.

Kathleen McClungKathleen McClung authored Almost the Rowboat (Finishing Line Press, 2013). Her poems appear in Mezzo Cammin, Unsplendid, Atlanta Review, Ekphrasis, West Trestle Review, A Bird Black as the Sun: California Poets on Crows and Ravens, and elsewhere. A 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee, she won the Rita Dove Poetry Prize. McClung serves as sponsor-judge for the Soul-Making Keats literary competition and as a reviewer for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. She teaches writing and literature classes and lives in San Francisco.