“Alive: The City,” “Bloody Tissue on a Subway Station Stair” and “Two Hawks”

“Alive: The City,” “Bloody Tissue on a Subway Station Stair” and “Two Hawks”

“Alive: The City,” “Bloody Tissue on a Subway Station Stair” and “Two Hawks”

Alive: The City

To Philadelphia

In the summer heat, the friction of feet melts the city’s asphalt to sludge. A mammoth wave curls over Broad. Cocoons pigeons and taxis. Engulfs cardboard boxes, condos, and their inhabitants. Folds into itself. Layer upon layer, an onyx monster takes shape. Its subway-rail veins rattle with the cries of men and church bells, the rhymes of children on rusting swing sets, the questions of women, the sinking clink of ice in a glass. Life. Blood. The giant greets the retreating clouds and meager sprouts of green burst from its armpit, nook for eagles to rest and squirrels to shit. The beast tiptoes toward the harbor empty of fish. No one to play with but the rats, bankers, and waitresses, rolling in its syrupy skin. Sometimes they swim, sometimes they drown.

Bloody Tissue on a Subway Station Stair

How did you come to grace

this stage? How many people

witnessed the spectacle?

Your role in the show?

Was the red inkblot soaking your fibers

spreading to pink around the edges

a signal of defeat?

A brawl gone too far

in a crowded subway

car? Your entrance an offhanded pass

with eyes cast down and fingers

that dare not touch?

Or was it sickness, cancer, cough? A pulse

craving liberation from the body’s closing walls?

A red river’s jail break turned suicide mission,

droplets running against windpipe, chasing

single points of distant light?

Was it a nosebleed, cut, silly

mistake? Was it picking skin raw

to give the heart rest?

Bloody tissue on a subway station stair

from whose pocket, purse, sleeve,

hand did you emerge?

Were you a gift from a man, homeless

with a cup of copper?

Taken from a bathroom?

Purchased from a local gas station-grocery store —

dual purpose, full service? Bloody tissue

on a subway station stair

stay away from me. You terrify

with your compassion

your truths.

Two Hawks

in a city tree.

Its bare branches shivering

as the train passes.

About the Author

Chelsea Jackson

Chelsea Jackson is awestruck by creativity and its power to challenge and comfort. They use their poetry to ask hard questions, interrogate inherited social narratives, and explore what it means to be human. Their work is published in Tiny Seed Literary Journal, Passengers Journal, Fatal Flaw Literary Magazine, Touchstone Literary Magazine, and the Platform Review. They were also a finalist in the 2020 Driftwood Press In-House Poetry Contest. Chelsea has an MFA in Poetry from Drew University, and is the Managing Editor of The Maine Review. Originally from Southeastern, Virginia, they now live in Philadelphia with their partner, grouchy cat, and cuddly pit bull. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram @sea_c_j.

Read more work by Chelsea Jackson.