Damnation Station

David Lawton

The subway stations in New York
In July are sweltering
The commuters all around me
Waiting for the train
Were wilting like daisies
In the bowels of Hell

I tried to stand as still as possible
Drawing in long, deep breaths
But the sweat began to flow
Out of me as if I was doing
Jumping jacks in a raccoon skin coat

So the sight of the 6 train
Emerging from the tunnel
Was a welcome relief
And the breeze of air conditioning
That greeted us as the doors slid open
Felt like all I ever needed

The cool of the molded plastic seats
Felt good against the small of my back
My shirt sticky with perspiration
And I let my head fall back
Against the wall of the car
To take in the sight of all
My fellow travelers
Riding at their ease

A Hispanic family
Was seated together
And their little girl of perhaps
Four or five years old
Was staring up at her father
Telling him a story
With obvious delight in her eyes
And an adorable smile
I could not turn away from

Her father was listening
With infinite patience
As my body temperature
Was balancing off
The little girl reached
High up with one hand
Toward the rear of her father’s head
To gently stroke the back of his neck
And the electric fuzz of his buzz cut
As she had seen her mother do
So many times before
Then he was in her power

And a shiver ran up my spine
Exquisite with lasting ecstasy
Which made my insides feel cold
As I felt something moving
Away from me through the tunnel
And icy crystals were stabbing me
Someplace deep inside

So I was grateful
When the doors opened
To my station
And I stepped back into
My unforgiving Hades.

David Lawton is the author of Sharp Blue Stream (Three Rooms Press), and has had his work published in numerous journals and anthologies. David is a graduate of the theatre program at Boston University, where he was also a Guest Artist in the graduate play writing classes taught by Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. For ten years he was a background vocalist in the New York underground band Leisure Class. At the band’s de facto headquarters in the Chelsea Hotel, he befriended Beat godfather Herbert Huncke and San Francisco poet Marty Matz, and was inspired by their embodiment of the written word. David also serves as an editor for greatweatherforMEDIA, and collaborates with poet Aimee Herman in the poemusic collective Hydrogen Junkbox.