The Mundane Train Ride (The MTR)

As every arm and leg got wondrously tangled
In a seemingly endless game of Twister,
And as every dirty-dancing belly and bum
Writhed rhythmically to the railway’s rattle
Or else the operator PA’s hypnotic warble,
Quietly and amusedly, I sat agaze at
This trainload of deadpans contending
For the bleariest eyes and dreariest grimace—
As if any crinkling lips or crow’s feet among
Such faceless drowning in this sea of faces
Should belong to some wayward Jonah,
Destined to be thrown overboard for good—
Except for the smugly six-foot-two, reaping
Our canopy air with a snugly lot of headroom left
While sheltering the sardined with sweltering arms.
Throughout the unhappy chase for the happy light
At some end of our neverending tunnel—when
No eyes could see the locales above ground
Any more than an inch of elbow room around—
I wondered what I had done to deserve my seat
And to leave most of my neighbours standing,
And for what reason the rich were spared
Our daily ordeal by their chauffeured limousines.
At a nameless station where another crowd
Was flushed out by yet another wave of fresh,
Worn-out faces, a little girl, aged five or six,
Wobbled up to me in her pink leather shoes,
Her watery eyes pleading for a place to sit.
I shut my eyes and pretended to sleep, and
Turned my ears to the engine’s gentle humming
Instead of her mummy’s quiet sigh of dismay.
Secretly, I smirked at my triumphant reasons:
For what would I have gained if I gave up my seat,
And what loss had I suffered by withholding it?

 

Colin Lee

colin-lee-small

I drafted this poem aboard a riskily overcrowded bus, where I stood through my journey, but adapted the scenario for a seated metro passenger’s POV instead. I intended this free verse to assume a mild structure verging on a blank verse’s, but without being balled and chained to the latter’s fixed metre (nor many awkward enjambments); I found this approach amazingly liberating to the flow of ideas and words, and I shall try it again some time. As for the poetics, by hyperbolising the mundane and normalising the bizarre, the creation of the delusional narrative, in my opinion, is fairly successful. I in particular enjoy the rampantly utilised semantic and dramatic contradictions, since they’ve imbued the poem with a style quite satisfyingly distinctive. The message is candid without pretence (well, at least, by unpretending it). I’m pleased.

Photo Courtesy: expats.hk
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18 thoughts on “The Mundane Train Ride (The MTR)

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    1. Thank you. Isn’t it, right? I did walk my talk this evening on a bus — sick and tired and quite heavy-laden yet gave my seat to a lady with a cane. Anyway, what might seem obvious in our everyday society isn’t so when it comes to motives and struggles behind the macrosocial. That’s my pondering in the poem.

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    1. Thank you, sir. I’m thrilled you took notice of that structural quality. As I wrote it, my left brain kept asking my right brain, “Yo, hasn’t this sentence been long enough?” And my right brain answered, “Not yet. We need to let our readers feel how breathlessly frustrating that mundanity is. Go on, slacker.” 🙂

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    1. Thank you, ma’am. You made an excellent point here. My pondering is that while a little gesture or a friendly offer of one’s seat seems obvious and easily appreciated, it isn’t so if we imagine our society, our world, is an overcrowded bus or train, bound for a shared future together — then, can we have that engagement and friendliness on that macrosocial level?

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    1. Thanks, Ms Bev. 🙂 And imagine the whole world is a bunch of strangers sharing a ride — of different age, gender, race, colour, social class, culture, religion, personality …

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  1. I like how you put yourself in a seated person’s pov, Colin. I’ve spent many trips on subway trains squished in there like sardines and have felt those jiggling bellies and bums. I like how you describe it like “dirty-dancing.” I’m sure there are plenty who turn a blind eye to those who would like a seat offered to them. How it leaves you feeling is up to each’s conscience. I enjoyed this very much!

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    1. Thank you, Bjorn. And the “lucky” one can be you or me or anyone — in a world of needy, if we look round at our less privileged neighbours with pure reason, it’s easy for us to dismiss our helping hands with excuses like … “hey, but I’m a squeezed middle class; I’ve got my own struggles!”; “hey, but I’m not rich, why don’t you ask that guy in the chauffeured limousine?” After all, class struggle can be like a game of musical chairs — without the music.

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