Standing on the subway, exhausted, dispirited,
glancing over the exhausted, dispirited faces
of my fellow passengers, I read posters
for a new movie about Pompeii.
“How can you breathe when the air is on fire?”
“How can you escape a boiling mudslide?”
“How can you outrun an eruption
faster than this train?” they ask.
Obviously the ad writer has never been
on this train, because this is a Q train,
and anybody who can’t outrun a Q train
must be on death’s doorstep anyway
and will soon be overtaken by time itself,
if not a boiling mudslide, though sometimes
that’s what time feels like, thick
and burning, pushing you on and pulling
you back. And now we rise creaking
over the Manhattan Bridge, where
one can see through scratchy windows
the city skyline and the buildings that are
not there, where thousands tried
to breathe air on fire and failed,
tried to flee an avalanche of concrete
and falling bodies and failed.
If only they’d been asked to outrun something
as slow as this slow train that takes us home—
how easily they might have done it.
But that is not what they were asked to do.


–from Help Is on the Way; first published in Poetry