Before I knew Lynn McGee was a poet, we worked together as colleagues, teachers at BMCC. We were working off campus at a public school on the Lower East Side, when one day she showed me a poem she’d written that had a wasp in it, an insect many would look at it with fear and even horror, but not Lynn who put herself and all she saw and was into that inconsequential insect, through her focus, illuminating and making it as important as anything—which is what a poet does, when she makes us see what is there with immediate clarity.
In the Vimeo below, Lynn reads nine short poems from her new book, Tracks, in part observations on the subway to and from work, which is a great time to write because there is only so much time, and in the present where all memories begin, there is the remembrance of family too, the past in the faces of those around going to work like you. The compression of time has given this book so many wonderful lines that if you don’t write them down, you will be forgetting some, but they will still be there when you reread and hear them again, alive in the rush hour.
What follows below are four of the poems Lynn reads in the Vimeo. Enjoy
They cut her clothes from her,
the scissor’s thick blade nosing
beneath her pants cuff, racing
up her leg, cold metal leaving its line
across her stomach.
A paramedic slid the pieces of fabric
from beneath her, careful
not to jostle, while her brain
still bled. Later, someone tucked
her jeans, blouse, and sandals
into a brown paper bag,
and I noticed it slumped against
in our parents’ bedroom,
put my face into that crumpled bag
and breathed my sister’s
familiar scent — cigarettes,
hair spray, cologne — reliving
her last day, windows down
and hair flying, radio thumping,
the roadside rippling
with tall grass, one fine
apple nestled in her satchel.
It’s 28 degrees in the kingdom above ground,
a place of light and smoke, which delivers
to us below,
a guy in orange shorts who dances down
the subway stairs and leaps
into our car, curly hair sizzling
on alabaster calves.
He scans the rows of seats, triumphant.
and I almost give a thumbs-up,
but curb my impulse
A friend complains of strangers,
their familiar ways,
how they pat her pregnant belly as she lurches
for a seat,
and I complain of the indifference
their shoulder bags’ sharp corners jammed
into my ribs.
I am a thirsty tree in a crowded stand.
We lean toward the memory of light
and I’m missing my father, whose other-century
decency would have exhausted him
on the New York City subway,
as he gave his seat to any woman standing
Maybe he could hear the troupe of chemo nurses
standing around his bed in their short skirts,
heads bowed, sniffling.
A machine was in charge then
and a machine
is in charge now,
its voice a cartoon conductor’s cheerful
Please step away from the ledge.
Kids on the Train
A teenage girl sits on the subway bench,
legs apart, pops her gums
and gazes up through false eyelashes
at another girl who stands
facing her, pushing those legs wider.
Their words are quiet,
but their laughs are loud. An older
lesbian, denim shirt
and wire-rim glasses, glances
at them, and talks softly with her
partner in a V-neck sweater,
gold cross dangling deep
into her cleavage.
A beefy kid sprawled on the bench
beside them pretends
to stare at his phone, head turned
just enough to watch
the two girls locked in play,
down the aisle.
I’ve seen this all before.
I’ve been the girl popping her gum,
the older woman showing
the shadow between her breasts.
I’ve been the boy wanting to be
part of something that doesn’t
want him, and I’ve been the stranger
Morning opened with the drama
a pinwheel hurling light across a map
of the United States,
that familiar, generous saddle.
Air masses accounted for, I traveled
under land and water,
shuffled into a marble elevator
and thought of Jesus in Herod’s
lonely for the wasps of his childhood,
leathery eggs of lizards,
holes appearing in flatiron blocks
of ripening cheese. If I had
been God, ear pressed
to the earth’s expanding belly,
I would have heard vessels being beaten
from gold, and the cracking
of skulls in that palace.
I would have heard the storm
cluster, spinning out
from its hungry center,
and I would have rescued
my only child.
My niece balances on the burnished rail,
one leg rising in rigid display,
gold dusting her hard brown calf.
A man we don’t know watches
from his pickup truck, its hood
a lake of fire, arm resting
on the doorframe, smoke coiling
from his fingers.
She hops to gravel and notices him
parked near the river’s rocky bank,
foam lurching to shore.
It sizzles as tide retreats.
She squints, can’t see his eyes
behind lenses white with glare.
She steps back to the hot rail,
her body taut, in tightrope mode,
arms out, foot sharp.
She’s ten years old—lemon
shorts, T-shirt tight as snakeskin,
beauty a kind of power
pushing itself from her pores,
elongating her limbs,
to rails plummeting
to the horizon.
He looks to see who’s watching,
then waves. She falters,
sways, raises one hand quickly
but knows enough
not to smile. She flicks back
loose strands of hair
and like any young animal
continues to test her prowess—
back straight, hands fluid,
one foot formally in front of the other
as she splits into one who watches,
and one who is watched.
Tracks is published by Broadstone Books. You can check them out here: