City Hall station, an architectural showpiece|
on the IRT
subway line in New York City,
opened in 1904 and closed in
1945. The station
still exists, though it is no longer used.]
Faint light seeps in through leaded glass,
impaneled lenses in the mezzanine,
where the tiled lettering says “City Hall,”
though afterwards, below, at Bowling Green,
our underwater crossing turns to Court.
The line continues on past Borough Hall,
and then, in Brooklyn, rises overhead;
it doubles back past Broadway-Lafayette,
then uptown toward the distant Bronx.
Suddenly the tumult hisses to a stop;
the car fills up with jostling passengers,
some wearing linen shirts with silk cravats,
and others calico, with figured skirts.
Weary clerks and seamstresses crowd in,
and orphans, weeping, with their cups.
The turnstile, for a nickel, let them in:
grimy workmen, couples on the town,
exhausted seamstresses, apprentices, and clerks.
And with these, too, the legless halt,
the sorry blind and deaf, soldiers maimed,
and, now and then, a feeble former slave.
Above us, traffic crawls along Canal;
from Houston north the oyster houses fill;
we gather speed, but then, mid-tunnel, stop;
the lights go off, then come back on.
Our car’s now empty, and we’re all alone.
The train stands underwater in the rock,
in cottoned asphalt, flowing silt, and muck,
in finery, in Sunday suits, in gowns,
in hat pins, shoes, embroidered fronts,
in needlework, in binding, and in stitch,
in sediment, in settling, and in drift.
Your brown eyes shed their clogs and shifts;
you take your bonnet and your hoopskirt off,
undo, unhook, all cinches, buttons, stays.
Now stockings down and gauzy underwear
(there’s no one here, the engineer’s asleep)
say where we’re headed, where we meant to go,
what crossing of our own will bring us to
the nearest station on the other side.
At Court the sky is free of pipes and ducts;
we stroll a few blocks more to reach the bridge
that floats its cabled walk above the tide.
In darkness far below us crowd the ships
whose going out will bring them back again.
Above us stars in constellations swing
their masthead lights in channels toward the sea.
Uncountable, their endless numbers cross.
We cross them now, and they, in turn, cross us;
each shining point that travels back and forth
will cross our anchored vision only once.