By Sarah Pemberton Strong:


Is how, on the rush hour subway, everyone
harbors beneath their dripping coats
a set of genitals. No one can look

anyone else in the eye, so obvious
is our nakedness under the clothes.
Though it’s only October,

there’s a blizzard dumping sleet
across Manhattan, and the streets are full
of people anyway, some wearing nothing

more than sweatshirts, their hunching shoulders
caked with fallen slush. It’s amazing
some people will stand

outside for an hour in this weather
just to see the de Kooning retrospective at the MOMA—
myself, it turns out, included.

Also that the same shade of paint
can make some people happy but give others headaches.
When I get home, I’m going to paint

my living room orange
against the six months of winter
that’s just begun. The Platonic ideal

of a raincoat is bright yellow,
and though I can’t see one beyond
all the crotches on the Lexington Avenue Local,

it’s comforting to think there will be an appearance soon,
little rite to remind us of the sun’s assured return.
It amazes me that I still want God to be more

than a perfect metaphor for loving,
that I still want to fall to my knees
for something other than this woman swaying above me,

her fingers knotted to the subway strap,
the folds of her labia just a couple inches from my mouth
while our bodies fly through a tunnel under the city,

and high above us, a deluge of gray crystal
blots out the gold of trees all down Fifth Avenue.
Amazing that the light of the sun makes us open

our eyes in the morning. And that when
there is no light, our eyes open anyway:
searching for it, then for each other.

(Today’s poem originally appeared in Rattle, was published in Tour of the Breath Gallery (Texas Tech University Press, 2013), and appears here today with permission from the poet.)

Sarah Pemberton Strong’s first poetry collection, Tour of the Breath Gallery, is the winner of this year’s Walt McDonald First-Book Prize (Texas Tech University Press, 2013). Sarah is also the author of two novels, The Fainting Room (Ig Publishing, 2013) and Burning the Sea (Alyson, 2002). Her poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Atlanta Review, Cream City Review, Mississippi Review, RATTLE, River Styx, Spoon River Poetry Review, The Sun, and Southwest Review. Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and she is the recipient of the Elizabeth Matchett Stover Award from Southwest Review and a Promise Award from The Sustainable Arts Foundation. She is a poetry editor at New Haven Review. Sarah lives in New Haven, Connecticut, with her spouse and daughter. She holds a Master Plumber’s license, and earns her living running a one-person plumbing company.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem shifts our perspective so that the world is viewed as if through a stereoscope. One image turns over into the next so that we view both the closeness of flesh and the starkness of winter. We move not only on a train and along an avenue, but underneath the clothes of our fellow commuters and into the inner workings of the mind, then into the perfect beauty of language, where “It amazes me that I still want God to be more // than a perfect metaphor for loving,” where it is “Amazing that the light of the sun makes us open // our eyes in the morning. And that when / there is no light, our eyes open anyway.”

Want to read more by and about Sarah Pemberton Strong?
Author Website
Review of The Fainting Room in Publisher’s Weekly


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