Poem of the Week | November 08, 2021

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Lines written on a New Jersey Transit train bound for New York” by K.A. Hays!

K.A. Hays is the author of three books of poetry. Her fourth collection, Anthropocene Lullaby, will be released in February 2022. Recent poems appear in Orion Magazine, Bennington Review, and Nashville Review. Hays teaches poetry at Bucknell University and directs the Bucknell Seminar for Undergraduate Poets.


Lines written on a New Jersey Transit train bound for New York

I ride by all the signs: HIGH VOLTAGE KEEP AWAY,
the orange construction netting tangled with the aftermath

of a flood, a billboard for THE ROCKETTES CHRISTMAS
SPECTACULAR foregrounding a vacant lot.

Across the aisle, adults crouch in backpacks, earbuds in.
Across the aisle, a child sits with a doll, holding the doll’s arm

and I can overhear someone saying,
“The fiancé owns credit card machines               or something,”

another voice replying, “How do you get into something like that”
and the long train on which we ride speeds up, singing past

the blurred rubble of a former structure, past metal
for the next structure. Girders. Pallets. Cranes. I wonder

how do you get into                 something
like       these pale green wires strung over every train?

How do you get into the wires that speed it all along
like this:             the child letting go the doll’s arm,

the doll             tilting towards the aisle—         how
do you get into

the train just speeding                 somewhere,
all these bodies alive       inside a machine           people built

with effort or even                         hope riding entire
            and for a moment                           spectacular.


Author’s Note

I’ve been working on poems that engage with the climate crisis, my personal culpability, and being a parent in the Anthropocene. I’m struggling with the tension between my love of song / the “high lyric” and my desire to let in more of the messiness, rawness, and vulnerability of my everyday experience (mental and physical) than I did in my past work. I hope these new poems come together to make a kind of (necessarily weird and anxious) Anthropocene song. In
this particular poem, I’m reflecting on my wonder over technologies and what humans, collectively, create (including New Jersey transit, which I love) but also how temporary and marked for destruction it all seems to be. I’m feeling the messy complexity of it, I think––and my awe of the mess.