Poetry: Selections from Sandra Salinas Newton

Bronx Girl’s Subway


Sometimes we rode the subway all through night

On the fifteen-cent cost of a subway token.


Like the token, we were fifteen and brassy,

Riding miles and hours, as far as we wished.


We wished for riches and sweet, cute boyfriends

Created from movies and our girlish dreams.


Our girlish dreams spun and woven on clanking tracks

From Tremont Avenue to Coney Island—end of the line!


For the rushing line of morning straphangers,

The brakeman reversed course and headed home.


But home changed throughout the years,

From tenement to high-rise to dreamt-of rooms.


Our rooms, our lives, now separated

And driven forth on different tracks.


The tracks’ squeal still echoes in my ears,

Though you, I think, have found your way:


Your way through winding routes seems smooth

To me, still riding this subway and wondering


If I shall ever reach my station.



I am the juggler extraordinaire

Who makes you gasp with delight

And clap so loud the lights flicker.

I show with studied ease my act

Of balancing disparities:

Colorful balls and computer keyboards,

Loose piano keys and sharpened chainsaws,

Even the odd book (dustcover removed, of course),

All to the tune of a whining barrel organ

That stands uncomfortably stage left

Outside the hot spotlight of my display.

Only a tiny trickle of sweat betrays me:

Behind the thick and dust-clogged curtain,

My failures await me, eager to suck me dry,

Or else to amputate my hands

And box them up with heavy ribbons

Of eternal silence.

Room of Dreams


I pace out in careful footsteps

The circumference

And wait while you draw the lasso

Around us:

The fence of silver rope and caresses

A translucent room

Of dreams.

We gather our books of poems

Each speaking magic

With sparkling tongues of light

And inhale our treasured music

Of concerts in vibrato

Or deeply thrumming larghetto.

The opera master frowns

But the symphonic sylph giggles

While I turn each page

And drop the words


In your lap.

You throw kisses in return

That I swallow hotly.

So our nights pass into dawn

When we crawl into bed

The last drummer muting his skin

The book slipping, closed, to the floor.

We fall asleep

Nodding as our night dissolves.



Dad trained him to carry half-pint containers of ice cream

From the corner candy store where the bus stopped

And the subway squealed below the steaming sidewalk grates.

He’d prance along, the proud spaniel pup, with ice cream

Dripping a trail all the way back home.


They named him Rusty, although he was more caramel color

Of silky fur with fringes on his paws and tail

And thick waves of curls covering his ears.

And they’d already named me Sandy, although I was darker

With severely straight black hair and dark, hooded eyes.


Only strangers tell you you’re different

Because your friends only care whether you can come out to play

Or who has the dime to buy a Spalding for a game of handball.

Strangers say it using various words and phrases

“Weird” or “Exotic” or “Alien,” or baser terms

But it all boils down to the same: different

So that you become what others say you are

To make it easier all around.


It was my responsibility to walk Rusty

Up one side of the long street and down the other side

Crossing only at the corners and obeying the lights

Strolling in the crosswalks while

Angry motors rumbled and throbbed at red lights

Barely registering the girl and her dog.


Later, we, hopeless romantics, walked all over the city

On broad avenues in winter past the chestnut vendors

Where the sweet fruit split open on the grills

And the fragrant oil scented the steam rising

On narrow streets choked with early-morning delivery trucks

And thick, gruff men throwing boxes into doorways.

Or we stood hand in hand waiting for buses or subways

In bruising heat that rose from concrete like angry specters

Or huddled together in the rain that dripped past our collars

And down our backs like trickles of itches needing to be scratched.


I’d lean in to your words and moves, wrapping my body to you obediently

Just as I’d learned to care for Rusty so many years before.

And I was not myself, but whoever you wanted me to be

To make it easier all around.


It probably goes without saying, but when you become what others say you are

You lose who you were born being, who you used to be

When you were someone who cast a shadow, owned a dog, crossed streets safely.



The dog eats something off the street one day

That you don’t notice (because you’re becoming not yourself)

And he’s puking all over the place, is rushed to the vet

But dies anyway.


I learned to jaywalk because I got too busy to walk all the way to the corner

To wait for a red to turn green, to rule traffic at the intersection.

I dodge and weave instead, like the free spirit I am—free—


I can’t remember now: Was I liberated from you or by you?

Does it make any difference at all?


Always being what others wanted

Made me rusty at being myself.

Vocal Poem

(meant to be spoken, not read)


We lose ourselves in that

That moment

When the universe goes dark


The brushing of an eyelash

On our cheek

Then the world goes on.

But we

We have lost something

An inéstimable bit

A split atom of ourselves




In the soundless dark

Of eternity.

Now we are nowhere

And everywhere

Now, still.

Sandra Salinas Newton is a Filipina-American professor emeritus of English. Her published works include introductory texts, fiction, and arts reviews. She was recently one of four finalists in the 2022 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest (Historical Fiction category). Her chapbooks were finalists or semi-finalists in competitions of Kallisto-Gaia Press, Brick Road Press, and Elixir Press. She earned her B.A. from The City College of New York, her M.A. from Hunter College, and her Ph.D. from Fordham University.