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a little Pound for your day's commute

“In a Station of the Metro”

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Alas, I’m not in Paris; I’m not in Washington DC. I’m not in a large city or even near one with underground transit for the masses. Or for today’s DC version, the rich (see a recent Harper’s index for the $109K median wage for DC subway riders). I grew up with Philadelphia’s North-South Broad Street Line, its East-West elevated line, and a small web of subway-surface cars (“trolleys”) surfacing in University City and extending into Southwest Philadelphia. So I can’t say I ever lived permanently in a city whose mass transit is dominated by an entire web of underground trains like New York City or Paris. I have visited New York a bunch of times, and I’ve been lucky enough to live for a summer in both Paris and Seoul, South Korea. I’ve experienced the thrill of navigating a complex web of subways in a language extremely foreign to one’s native tongue. I’ve lost my way.

Pound’s poem suggests we do not need to know subways to know our fellow “apparitions” and “petals.” We do not need to stand apart or mingle upon a platform with a group of commuters. We can be connected to the “wet, black bough” even if we cannot skip over the turnstile or pay the local fares. We do not even need the rain.

When I read the poem, I hear the last line fighting the first line while the title cries out, “I am a line of this poem too.” And I hear the famous story of Pound trimming the fat of a much longer poem and ending with these two lines. And I consider Pound’s own sad ending outside DC, his second stay in a city with a Metro. And I wonder what views Pound would express if he were active in radio politics today. Could a man who could write like this sound as superficial as a Rush Limbaugh or Neil Bortz or any of our failed “liberal” radio hosts?

As you were, poetry.

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