Poem on the Transbay Tube


On the train I’m always looking

for a distraction


from the train, speeding

through a tunnel


underwater—from my fear

that the tunnel will fail


and we will drown.

All day I’ve been thinking


about the body, about

our beautiful, singular bodies,


looking at the veins

on my forearms,


my underdeveloped muscles—

how could any of this


ever protect me? All day I felt

like a shot bird


spiraling to the ground.

On the other side,


at street-level,

I pay for a straight-razor shave


just so a man

will touch me.


He gets close, holds

my jaw still,


his breath on my ear.

The aftershave


is a cold burn,

so often a following act


for tenderness. Every day,

countless rays and waves


pass through me

undetected. And I am to believe


that nearly all of them

are harmless.



JIM WHITESIDE is the author of a chapbook, Writing Your Name on the Glass (Bull City Press, 2019), and is a 2019-2021 Wallace Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University. A graduate of the MFA program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, his poems appear or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, The Southern Review, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, Crazyhorse, and Boston Review. Originally from Cookeville, Tennessee, he lives in Oakland, California.

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