Monday, October 17, 2011

Underground Notes: Mad Scientists

I'm seeking to track my time underground in the New York subways in verse for a running series of poems. It's an experiment foisted upon me by the lack of time, multiple deadlines, and an agreement to create/perform new spoken word.

Chapter 1: Mad Scientists

And in walks the mad scientists,
swirling incense, clicking charms and selling potions
Shouting like a Carolina Baptists,
dancing like a Blue Grass Pentecostal
begging like a saint,
eyes scouring and scanning
for recognition, awareness. Looking for a face.

There are mad scientists underneath the city.
Cackling wild voices in echoing lairs
fall out bunkers, and hieroglyphic caves.

Mad scientists who blink their fingers
flickering lips and spittle drips from their
bursting ruby eyes,
glowing like demons.

Half-naked and shit-stained mad scientists
testing new drugs, liquids, and emotions
on the general passenger.
You see underground has the perfect test subjects
Endless variations. Nigerians dark as ebony
in white desert robes, Hasiddics fingering their curls
while reading prayers, Mongolian merchants shuffling off Canal
Korean students shoving fliers written in three languages asking 'Are you saved?'
Tattoo pierced Cross-dressed transgendered queers
and uncrossed un-pierced money-gendered Wall Streeters
shove for shoulder space inside snaking streets that never see sun.
The underground is lit by chemical torches, blinking machine red warnings, train lights, and trash fires .

And in walks the mad scientists. They must be planted at the beginning and end of each line
because they always seem to be there
waiting for me. They must know I have a busy schedule
and don't have time for the set-up. How thoughtful of them.
I'm a New Yorker, so if you're going to act
bat-shit insane I'd prefer we skip the formalities, introductions and get to the main event
Bring the Ruckus.
You have 7 subways stops to hold my attention,
scare me, thrill me, entertain me.
Afterward I will never see you again.

At Union Square, I walked into a private bedroom.
Quartered off with boxes, bags, and drapery.
He lay slumped over wrapped in loose loose
falling down loose pantaloons, half-naked.
Thin alabaster reed with a bouquet of  popping out of chest
wearing a crown of greasy string cheese. A white blindfold.
The man stood up, hands readjusting his pants in a striptease peek-a-boo
'now you see it, but you pray you won't.'

And then the zonked, blindfolded, half-naked passenger
began doing tai chi. On a moving subway from 14th St.
until the time I got at 57th St.
Naturally it wasn't a full set.
It was obscene, absurd, maybe even a bit erotic
but an experiment nonetheless.

And in walk the mad scientists
pissing in a beer bottle
while mothers hold their children's heads
and run like they've seen a werewolf.

And in walk the mad scientists
singing a whiskey-voiced collection
of Christmas tunes...
in July, wishing everyone happy holidays
and doffing his Santa hat.
I gave him some change and he sang all the way
over the bridge.

And in walked...me
42nd Street, beginning of November
rainy night. Cold, lonely, Sunday.
My eyes pre-scanned cars as they rolled to a stop
The green wool scarf twisted 'round my neck
A bell rang and doors opened.
A scramble for the dayglo lemon and tangerine colored seats
I didn't even look before sitting but we all know that terrible feeling
when we don't look and find ourselves sitting next to crazy.
The mad scientists was sprawled out between 3 seats plus the two window seats.
Muttering, snapping, snarling.

We flip open our hand-held device and have a stare-off with the screen
Muttering, snapping, snarling
We hold our phone tighter. Death grips around the LCD.
His eyes scan our faces. One looks up. He goes in.

Mad scientists muttering, snapping, snarling, standing.
Staggering up in the rocking cabin.
Gnarled and nappy he leans into a screen,
"WHAT DOES IT MEAN?"

Female PYT leaps up and walks down aisle, never
parting from her screensaver mask, peering religiously
down at her phone.

Mad scientists follows and I look around.
No one is doing anything!
A sick feeling begins sloshing around my stomach,
duty, responsibility, some kind of subway chivalry. DAMN!

I wait, maybe someone will DO SOMETHING.
Muttering, snapping, snarling he pursues her down the aisle.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN he shouts.

Sickened, the feeling comes over me: that dream-like, time-stilled
murderous adrenaline floods up from my stomach and leaks out of skin.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN!!?

I stand slowly, trying to control this sickness filling my head.
Taking deep sigh, I close the gap between us in a second.
My hands become hooks. I snag his jacket and yank the shit out of it.

The cabin floor jumps and mad scientist flies through the air.
So light, so effortless. My hook throws him like soup can.
In mid-air he's not yet conscious of what is going on. 
That he is flying.

I could smash him against the metal pole or fly him into the ceiling.
Instead, I bring him in for a soft landing. Both hooks guiding him to the floor.
He's stunned. I'm stunned. The passengers look up from their screens.

What does it mean, he asks softly.
He's a little boy again.
Putting on my best 'Daddy voice' I assure him just like my Dad would
that the most pressing issue is that he needs to shut the fuck up!

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?!?
SHUT THE FUCK UP!

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?!?
YOU NEED TO SHUT THE FUCK UP!

I don't feel very Buddhist right now.
The young female runs out of the car when the doors open.
Suddenly embarrassed, I run too!
A hand taps me on the shoulder and a voice says 'good job!'

What does it mean?
I need a retreat right now
I need a monastery, a refuge, a prayer.
I say a prayer, more hands tap my shoulder ascending stairs
'good job!'
No, not a good job. Very, very bad job. Stop congratulating my rage.

Adrenaline drains from me and consciousness returns.
All my awkwardness
returns twice as strong. 

I run out into the night air.
I could have smashed his skull in. But I didn't I keep reminding myself.

I could have crushed his chest underneath my feet.
But I didn't.
But I thought it.
But I didn't.
But what about next time?
Be more prepared for the experiment.
Be more aware of the mad scientists.


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