Samuel Amadon

The Pennsylvania Station Sequence   

 

(I)

There’s a naked girl on a red velvet swing

Or the name of the song they were singing

Stanford White was shot and someone was

Caulking the joints of the iron-lined tunnel

Under the Hudson where if you can whistle

Then it means something would you please

Whistle when it means something I could

Tell you about watching the retarded man

On the train walking without his father to

The bathroom where the older woman who

Had just entered forgot to switch the lock

From vacant to occupied sometimes I think

I like to buy a magazine less for the articles

And more for the production don’t you enjoy

Thinking some things about gloss and laminate

How their weight presses like newness when

Kept unfolding in one’s jacket pocket here

Let’s open it on the opportunity to combine

Detail and feeling through the reductive act

Of side story as I was saying there’s a naked

Girl on a red velvet swing and a number of

Unpaid debts a murder trial a vast collection

Of antique furniture burning in a warehouse

Fire or pink marble piled in the Meadowlands

Also there’s White’s partner Charles McKim

Yet another who’d never see the station open

 

(II)

What you do is gather together the terms

        Beaux-art and concourse under the prospect of

Post office without allowing for the ironic

        Moment like often I find it has to be culture all

The time I find myself tracing the historical

        Terminal but not the post-war clamshell

Monstrous ticketing what sort of meeting is this

        Happening without a moderator or is everyone

Just thinking meeting what meeting I

        Believe I was talking to myself now either

Pass the conditioner or adjust the temperature

        I prefer it where you think it must be too hot

For your face and then you find it isn’t as I was

        Saying though had there been a figure such as

Jackie O in 1963 then maybe this discussion

        Would not be happening um excuse me but

I believe there was such a figure well not one

        Saying is it not cruel to let our city die

By degrees stripped of all her proud monuments

        Until there will be nothing left of all her 

Roman elegance to inspire our children except

        If they live on the east side but for those of us

Not so inclined to celebrate the Vanderbilt legacy

        By which I mean we propose a return to our

Discussion the Farley Building and what it was

        Someone was speaking to the limits of fantasy


(III)

There is a girl on the train you understand

She has been to many different countries

And she believes that wherever she is right

Then is her home she says to the women

From Mississippi who think she is interesting

When she asks them if they like shopping

And they do so she tells them they should

Absolutely go to Thailand with three empty

Suitcases also try Ethiopian food and visit

Colorado for the lifestyle she says goodbye

To them while getting off in Meriden where

I think I should have begun with the tunnels

Shifting in the glacial silt like information is

For a certain kind of poet I imagine the place

They begin despite the later claims of all

I thought was how to occupy that absence

Which I can claim as well but more like see

Fucking Jagr’s leaving for the Russian league

Which I imagine in combination with the passage

Of warehouses or warehouse-like offices

Incidentally raises the question if my father is

A commercial real estate appraiser wouldn’t

That change how I feel about some buildings

Oh you would like him if he was here he would

Not be sitting backwards on the train even if

It is a decent analogy for temporal experience

 

(IV)

I just want to say first that we can imagine it

Ok fine but what I’m saying is we already know

That right along with how to drink and speak

Walk around and look it’s better than that stop

Imagining a horizontal Grand Central walk in

I mean from Seventh Avenue right granite

Columns or iron and plate glass the arcade can

We say it was arrayed with shopfront windows

Travertine shimmering if we can say shimmering

Oh that’s something you’re born with or maybe

You learn how there’s a way of walking with

A bottle of water I took from a friend there’s a way

Of talking where you don’t tell anybody I said

Woo but I mean the waiting hall I’m talking

The flood right the general waiting hall was so

Vaulted the facility of cliché falls into actual

Light casting across fluted columns

And no benches ok this wasn’t New Haven

There was nothing to do in it just be glorious

And wait for the train right I mean that’s why

You’re going on about this right well actually

I think that’s more what the concourse was for

Platforms under a tarpaulin of glass and steel

Stairways leading through cut outs in the floor

You know so it looked how do you say the word

Skyline so it folds down into trains and tunnels

 

(V)

I went there all the time but just on the subway

I mean I saw this woman snorting heroin from

A Dixie cup standing up the middle of the A

Noon Tuesday smart though in the express gap

Before fifty-ninth this like I was saying on my

Way to work as a part time landscape design

Whatever and it was easy getting there at noon

But going home people the waves at one ramp

Down from the station to where the LIRR exit

Meets the entrance for the A come around it

Straight into so many people it was like a joke

Like a commercial I mean I had to stop laugh

At it in the spring with this awful smell burst

Sewage but you can’t stop you have to keep

Walking and be ready for I can’t even tell you

Before the doors closed a rat got on the train

Like anybody we rode for a stop our legs raised

Pulled into Times Square I mean honestly it

Took me longer than it should to realize things

Weren’t where I thought they were you have to

Listen how people talk about it in a way so that

Maybe the funniest thing I ever said was Yankee

Stadium in response to where are you now on

The way from Inwood to Greenpoint you have

To know that’s what was moving this agreement

Like the city is an idea I’m already forgetting it

 

(VI)

And then it turned out it was about heartbreak

You have a train moving from a station toward

A station also a sip of scotch you lean your head

Back against the headrest and guess what bud

Things accumulate we don’t just move through

Time and get there with what we started with

I don’t care if you think New York makes you

Treat a pair of pants like living somewhere

Else you know I never thought that

Out it was just one of these ideas comes up

From walking around getting the paper and then

Abandoning the little plan you know turning left

Instead into the park where not really anyone is

Sitting like it’s seven on a Sunday and what are

You doing up outside with all this dismal shit

The tiny rain that complements the sense it’s

A few degrees colder than you thought it was

And then it turned out you think maybe now

You’ve started putting the ending in the middle

Really asking at which point in this you thought

Of having something to say to people that’s how

It started right all somewhere someone diner

Picture this conversation as not in your head but

Across the table where it didn’t seem you were

Getting into anything just talking it turns out you

Remember it really takes nothing to remember

 

(VII)

It’s a form of history I said I was receptive to

That’s all or I should say it’s really the delivery

What everybody notices without knowing they’re

Noticing it doesn’t matter if you can compress

The air in such a way so that the men breathe

A sigh of oh no wait that wasn’t it let’s try again

In order to prevent the Hudson from rushing in

To the tunnel where the men were bolting iron

Rings to iron rings compressed air was pumped

In by a don’t you think it’s sort of funny when

People properly pronounce the word research

There’s a line in a song which I often mishear

So pro now becomes pronoun that’s the mistake

I have affection for these sorts of misperceptions

Perhaps it’s because my eyes drift apart from each

Other naturally I lose focus for a moment more

And more often lately it affects my reading of all

These magazines what am I doing with distraction

As artifice is that it so arbitrary yes but not actually

Let’s continue again there were men working in

The air under the Hudson they had to enter slowly

Like a submarine descending and the important

Thing to understand is that coming from the other

Side of the river there were also men working in

These tunnels that were shifting you understand

These tunnels were going to meet under the river

 

(VIII)

And then it was time to acknowledge the closing

Was waiting behind everything everybody knows

There’s no need for orchestration you can fancy

Up a situation where the outcome is in question

But here look how a condition of its destruction

Was the station’s continued operation that’s one

Don’t quite have to make sense if it takes place

Underground scenario a friend of mine wants to

Burn down St. John the Divine you know like in

A novel or here I have such a similar opportunity

And yet I want the day to go to the beach instead

To brush the glass out the way and lie down with

A book of lucid criticism in a slightly cold wind

Or better still I went out yesterday to pay rent

And ended up getting stoned with my neighbor

Playing with his baby while we watched a series

Of industrial accidents did you know the Court

House in Milwaukee has this classically imposing

Façade it comes up after the collapse of Big Blue

Mega-crane that fell into the new Brewers stadium

Killing three people and leaving one Wisconsin

Building inspector unable to look at home plate

The same how different from Penn Station

Where everything was yielded to hazard and one

Was free to inspect the processes of demolition

Or so said a group of weekend photographers

 

(IX)

The event scheduled hadn’t at the start time

Begun so there were these people loosely milling

Around the microphone banquet no platform

Stand what is it host or maybe there’s not always

A particular word for a group of something

Anyway the point is there were people and it had

Gotten much later than it was supposed to be

Someone making an announcement not coming

Was not something anyone was prepared for

At present they had been expecting to be noting

How mister yes sir was devoted to the issue

While others still were thinking to themselves

Quite a moment to happen at such a time

Was really something except of course that now

It was nothing got it I mean to get it together

All you need is the right mixture of phone numbers

And telephones most people will listen if you

Convince them someone is speaking more so for

Speaking in a context like looking from outside

The interior is what puts handles on the frying

Pan a friend of mine once said in his experience

People will not recognize references to themselves

Even when we’re looking for them we’re really

Looking for someone to stand up and convince us

That they’ve been handling the thing from the start

Like such a surprise to find I’m not who I came to see

 

(X)

Can you find out why we’re standing in the dark

While dates appear on screen like part of the story

What specific aspect of your emotional experience

Can you express with articulations of 1910

It’s a little something I know it’s a little something

They’re asking us back to the office now for a few

More questions like I’m not convinced and you

Haven’t convinced me you understand the lights

Go out on trains and come back on it’s not always

About your choices often it’s about what happens

They aren’t going to build a statue for this one

It’s a couple of people talking without stopping

Look there’s such a thing as the ball crossing

The goal line because of inertia there’s weight

To these trains they aren’t some aluminum

Version of how to talk without consequences

What’s central to any story isn’t necessarily

The story you walk away with some vague

Approximation of what you walked in with

That line sounds a little familiar doesn’t it

You know how you pick these things up

Just by saying them who can remember when

It’s like how many people were even in the room

Where that conversation happened I don’t know

But if you or I weren’t one of them then why’d

We repeat what we heard there to everyone

 

First published in Cannibal

 

Sam Amadon is the author of Like a Sea and The Hartford Book. His poems have appeared recently in the New YorkerA Public Space, Ploughshares, and American Poetry Review. He teaches in the MFA program at the University of South Carolina. bio-sam