Poem for Display in a Subway Car

This entry is part 2 of 14 in the series Public Poems

While you sway, tired, staring, your electronic earplugs
delivering their intravenous drip of distraction,
it is still there, running just
under everything,
that third rail.

Series Navigation← Poem for Display in a City BusPoem for Display at a City Reservoir →
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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

10 Comments


  1. We don’t have subways here. I was aware, however, that a third rail was the one responsible for both powering the train and yet lethal enough to have electrocuted many. I almost let it go as a hint of the ominous underbelly of both power and danger still present while we are tuned out. Luckily, Wiki came to my rescue again. It seems to be a full on political term, and we have candidates who are continually in danger of derailing themselves because of having to deal with these unpopular subjects. Why? Maybe because we aren’t plugged in to reality? “intravenous drip of distraction” What a line! Thanks Dave. Once again a seed of poetry bloomed into a whole tree of enlightenment for me. Between you and Wikipedia I may finally get a real education.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_rail_(metaphor)

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  2. Fred – Thanks. I’ll try!

    Joan – I’m glad this took you in so many directions. That’s one scarily complete Wikipedia entry! Yeah, I did have the political cliche a bit in mind. I conceive it as part of the purpose of poetry to try to recapture metaphors from the death grip of cliches and breathe some life back into them.

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  3. Sorry for the series navigation link to a post that isn’t up yet. That’s a bug in the plugin. The post is scheduled to appear on Saturday morning, so it’s a link into the future, if you like. (I’ll be gone most of the weekend, which is also why I have temporarily removed the Recent Comments widget from the sidebar – I won’t be here to delete the occasional spam that slips through the net.)

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  4. One of the loveliest experiences I had was in Boston back in 1988. It was winter and I was taking the Red Line subway home from my job in Cambridge to my apartment in Allston, Boston. As we passed over the bridge between MIT and central Boston suddenly the train broke down and we all sat there, on the bridge, with the view out over the Charles River. It began to snow. Twenty minutes must have gone by. Suddenly the train conductor over the intercom began reciting impromptu poetry about snow, the Charles River, about learning to see beauty in the midst of the daily grind of living. When he was done everyone in the train stood up and gave a standing ovation.

    That could NEVER have happened in Japan!

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  5. I love these poems and the idea behind them. I think I’m going to have my poetry-writing students do something like this next year. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  6. miguel – That’s great! And yeah, it’s that kind of occasional spontaneity and informality that almost makes all the cant about the Land of the Free seem true.

    Linda – Go for it! I’d be honored.

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  7. I’m glad to see mention here of the dreaded third rail. I’ve always had an inner terror of that rail, keeping well away from the edge of the platform just in case.

    Here you illustrate quite well the ways we distract ourselves, trying not to think about our ultimate demise. Great stuff, and a great project too.

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  8. Thanks, christine. Fear is always a potent source of poetry, I find.

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