Poetry Drawer: Brief Encounters on the Red Line by Christopher Johnson

The Red Line clitters and clatters and clutters along from Howard Avenue with its genuinely frightening demeanour and dark dangerous corners.

The train clumps along through Rogers Park to the Loop and then to the terminus at 95th Street,

A different world entirely from the one you enter at Howard

If you know anything about Chicago.

The train is a mechanical beast rocking back and forth

Flinging passengers willy-nilly in existential patterns.

It’s December in all its Christmassy glory,

And the others and I are wrapped up in our Chicago-y fleeced winter coats that bulk us up and turn us into shapeless pathetic blobs.

As the Red Line rattles southward,

All us human beings including me stare at nothing,

Avoid all dangerous murderous explosive incendiary eye contact.

Staring blankly, emptily, staring at nothing, their and my faces as seemingly empty as the vast ocean.

They and I stare at nothing.

They and I think nothing.

They and I stare aggressively impassive.

I am sitting while others younger than I stand because in their eyes I am Methusaleh—ancient, tired, glancing boredly at my watch that says 9:13 PM.

The raucous clattering of the train worms into my ears and wipes them clean,

Attacks my senses and destroys them.

A young woman enters at Belmont and grasps a strap in front of me.

Her blue jeans sparkle with silver beads that wind like sacred snakes up and down her legs.

She hangs onto the strap and joins the others and me in staring at the edges of the universe, seeing the origins of life, the remnants of the Big Bang.

She wears a black mask, but above the mask, her eyes strike glimpses of something beyond.

Accidentally (or not?) her booted toes touch the toes of my clunky antediluvian shoes that I bought ages ago at Dr. Waxberg’s Walk Shoppe on Dempster Street with its infinite miles of strip malls and fast-food nirvanas.

The toes of her boots barely touch the toes of my old Dr. Waxberg specials, worn through so many hundreds of miles,

And send a bolt of electricity that storms through my ancient sunken body and leaves me


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 free-lance 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, Blue Lake Review, The Literary Yard, Scarlet Leaf Review, Spillwords Press, Fiction on the Web, Sweet Tree Review, and other journals and magazines.

You can find more of Christopher’s work here on Ink Pantry.

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