Tuesday Morning on the Westbound E Train

Beth Sherman

The face you paste on each morning,
Bland as watery oatmeal,
Not so faint lines leading nowhere in particular,
    is not a mask.

You recite the usual words:
Medium coffee, slight chance of rain,
    to the same disinterested girl
Who never seems to recognize you.

That's okay. When you look in the mirror, the face
    staring back at you belongs to
    someone else. A stranger on a train or
Your mother right before the end.

But your face is your face. No
    amount of makeup can hide it.
Not an avatar. What you know about computers
    could fit in a thimble.
Not a symbol of disaffection or rage or
    (gasp!) acceptance of how you're getting old.

The subway lurches out of the tunnel,
    Splashing coffee on the suit of the man standing next to you,
    who curses before he edges away.

Out of the window, pigeons fight over a discarded loaf of bread.
And you think how strange it is that
    birds never seem to age.
Appearing and disappearing like wayward gifts.

Even a sparrow crushed under the wheels
    of a car or severed by raccoon jaws
    looks young. Death as random fact.

Maybe it has to do with gravity,
    the way they're able to fly without
    thinking about it – leaving crumbs, pavement, city behind.
Like the way you feel sometimes in the early moring,
Light seeping through the pane, hidden under virginal white sheets,
As though you could float above your body and your naked, wrinkled face,
    above each petty thought and selfish worry to whatever waits up there.

Beth Sherman's background is in journalism. Her articles have been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Seattle Times, Martha Stewart Living, Parents magazine and other publications.