We take the subway all by ourselves. We count the stations, secretly checking directions on folded loose-leaf paper in your mother’s handwriting, hidden in our pockets. We grip the subway pole at different heights, my hand below yours. The train lurches. We fall, laughing, against each other. My cool tall beautiful high school best friend and I. In Manhattan we ramble past store windows, the polished glass burning in the sun. We comment on the haircuts, the styles the mannikins wear. We share the same sidewalk with ladies clattering on high heels, the men’s mouths grim. We mimic their faces and walks. We nudge each other, scan the crowds for celebrities, feel the brush of air as racks of clothes wheel past us on the hot concrete, amid fumes from subway grates, sizzle of steam on our thighs, the scent of hot dogs and pretzels our parents say never to eat.
In record stores we flip through the LPs talking knowledgeably about Simon and Garfunkel, Sly and the Family Stone, Joni Mitchell. I could buy a Peter Max poster or a poster of Woodstock, a white dove fluffing up her feathers like my parakeet sometimes does. You could pick out a paper lantern made to look like a Tiffany stained-glass shade. You could take it home and hang it over your bed back in Queens. We could buy an incense burner and freak out our mothers. I could take classes at the Art Students League. During break, I could drink black coffee with the models in their bathrobes with nothing underneath. You could take tennis lessons or get head shots done for modeling jobs. I mean it, you could be a model, really.
We eat jelly sandwiches we brought from home, sitting side by side under the statue at Columbus Circle, wearing rainbow T-shirts from camp and jeans from Drobbins on Northern Blvd where we’ve shopped all our lives. The traffic parts around us like the waters of the Red Sea. We ride the escalators up and down, and the only thing we actually buy (for a quarter in a coin machine) is a Bonwit Teller shopping bag, so people will see us carrying it on the subway ride back home. We shake the empty bag open. I’ll never forget the sound of its cardboard bottom dropping neatly into place.
Faith Paulsen’s second poetry chapbook, We Marry, We Bury, We Sing or We Weep, has been named a Runner-up in Moonstone Arts’ 2021 Chapbook Contest. Her poetry and prose have appeared in many venues including Ghost City Press, Book of Matches, Thimble Literary Magazine, Evansville Review, Mantis, Psaltery and Lyre, and Terra Preta. Her work has also been anthologized in collections such as 50/50: Poems & Translations by Womxn over 50 (QuillsEdge). She has been nominated for a Pushcart. Her chapbook A Color Called Harvest (Finishing Line Press) was published in 2016. A third chapbook, Cyanometer, is expected in fall 2021. For more information, please check the website at https://www.faithpaulsenpoet.com/.