Poetry: "Commuter"

Who are all the anonymous people on the Metra?

Wearing black coats against the Chicago cold,

Bundled against the b-r-r.

The train perambulates forward,

Rattling over the antediluvian tracks,

And the people in their midnight overstuffed down coats,

Look like black Pillsbury doughboys from hell.

Coats black as night, black as cold, black as sin,

These Chicagoans, these working-hard-nose-to-the-lodestone grinders,

Their faces blank, fixating ahead,

Faces like blackboards that a detentioned kid wipes clean with a cloth while teacher

watches and taps her foot and can’t wait to get home and fall into the arms of that

seducing bottle of Cutty Sark.

The passengers, the manifold hidden-in-their-overstuffed midnight coats:

What are they thinking?

What are they feeling?

Thoreau comes to mind:

Most perps live lives of insane desperation.

I catch myself—that is unfair,

And I catch myself cuz I’m a nice guy.

And I am one of them.

But even that outburst of superego not enough to cease my metaphysical speculations.

The train gobbles up track and spits it out,

Rattles forward bumpity-bump,

Carrying us riders into the sylvan suburban storm,

Rocking back and forth past Clybourn, Rogers Park, Evanston, Wilmette, Winneta,

Glencoe, Highland Park,

And as Mr. Train shakes and rattles and rolls over the ancient tracks,

The passengers’ heads bump up and down

Like existential bobbleheads,

Boing . . . boing . . . boing,

Bouncing up and down, like painful subliminal repetitions.

Their eyes their windows to the world

Glazed over, anonymous to one another,

Each of us locked into our cracker barrel plasticware three-dimensional box

And staring ahead with unblinking unseeing withering exhausted eyes,

Enervated by subliminal thoughts of existence doing battle with nonexistence.

No kind words or curious or gentle caresses to exchange.

Brick walls thick as a tomb built of eyes and mortared with vast and underrated and

underreported forgetfulness and fear.

Where is the pure minutia of being alive?

Instead, eyes cemented over, unseeing, anonymous,


Christopher Johnson is a writer based in the Chicago area. He's done a lot of different stuff in his life. He's been a merchant seaman, a high school English teacher, a corporate communications writer, a textbook editor, an educational consultant, and a freelance writer. He's published short stories, articles, and essays in The Progressive, Snowy Egret, Earth Island Journal, Chicago Wilderness, American Forests, Chicago Life, Across the Margin, Adelaide Literary Magazine, The Literary Yard, Scarlet Leaf Review, Spillwords Press, Fiction on the Web, Sweet Tree Review, and other journals and magazines. In 2006, the University of New Hampshire Press published his first book, This Grand and Magnificent Place: The Wilderness Heritage of the White Mountains. His second book, which he co-authored with a prominent New Hampshire forester named David Govatski, was Forests for the People: The Story of America’s Eastern National Forests, published by Island Press in 2013.