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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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