Tie City

by Robert Long

At fourteen I rode the IRT express home
From Yorkville to Union Square,
Where we banked and scraped the platform's dirty curve
And the PA garbled a warning to watch our step
As the doors rolled back with a sound like marbles.
We spilled into the green-blue light

Of Union Square Station, 1968:
Bagel stands, cups of dirty orangeade,
Carnations for sale in subway air you could taste.
You carried it to the street, on your clothes;
You could see it, a fine graphite mist
Rising in a cloud from the stairway's foul mouth.

Sometimes I'd stop first in the underground Tie City,
A humid box with bars on one side, a prison cell
For haberdashery. I bought orange ties
Splattered with paisley, ties the blue
Of current jumping high-voltage wires,
Produced in swaths of fabric you could run through a car wash.

I purchased cuff links, ascots, and tie pins
I never wore. There were Tie Cities
Aboveground, too, but they held no allure for me.
In subterranean dank those cheap accessories
Seemed illicit, hinted of some netherworld. At night
On my way back from a school dance

Tie City was barred and the station a ruin,
a sci-fi rendition of collapsed civilization:
Steel pillars studded with a pox of rivets
Repeated endlessly in spit-smudged gum machine mirrors,
Amorphous figures under overcoats on the floor,
Strangled shouts in distant gloom. Tie City's

Long gone. The distant romance
Of that tile and concrete colonnade is history,
Though the station, cathedral of the damned,
Still stands. And the half-light of Union Square
At dusk is suffused with the same recycled perfume:
Fried plantains, Carbona, and asphalt's memory of spring rain.

Other Selected Poems from Blue:

Excellent Coffee Shop
Terminal Cafe