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
And wait while you draw the lasso
The fence of silver rope and caresses
A translucent room
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.
(meant to be spoken, not read)
We lose ourselves in that
When the universe goes dark
The brushing of an eyelash
On our cheek
Then the world goes on.
We have lost something
An inéstimable bit
A split atom of ourselves
In the soundless dark
Now we are nowhere
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.