Then up and spake the popinjay
That flew abune her head:
“Gae let him in that tirls the pin:
He cometh thee to wed.”
O when he cam` the parlour in,
A woeful man was he!
“And dinna ye ken your lover agen,
Sae well that loveth thee?”
—Lewis Carroll, The Lang Coortin’
What have I seen? What have I not seen!
A couple smooching noisily on the escalator going down; a red shirt emblazoned with a flaming silver tie (I made a point to stare at it). I have seen small people jouncing and large people shuffling; I have seen the jaunty and the frumpy; two eastern Europeans slouching over food and three ramrod southeast Asians talking while simultaneously ignoring each other. I have seen a pregnant woman with downcast eyes and that look of patience; an old guy on the last pages of an enormous Stephen King and a young lady on a bench, her feet up, her legs a triangle, reading and listening to the waters of the fountain echoing endlessly in an empty space. I glanced at a woman who, it seemed to me, had once been beautiful; chubby, bald and eager businessmen ascending escalators too; and have forgotten nothing that I saw.
A palid woman in her middle age, with skirt and ipod; a bearded chap with awkward glasses sweeping and pausing for the crowds to pass to scoop up discarded things. I went by the languid sushi place, the bustling Chinese wok, a warm place where the pizza waited recumbent the devouring mouth, and tacos, Thai, and hemispheric hamburgers along the passages and around the corners.
(AND I TIRESIAS HAVE FORESUFFERED ALL
ENACTED ON THIS SAME DIVAN OR BED;
I WHO HAVE SAT BY THEBES BELOW THE WALL
AND WALKED AMONG THE LOWEST OF THE DEAD.)
I thought it very loud, shouting over all the impressions crowding in, and suffered then an access of emotion that for a second obliterated life around me as the flowing crowd slowed at a constraining door to trickle through. I was behind three Indians—they with the jungle luxuriant in their jet locks, their untamed lustrous hair. I saw scraggly, hairy bums, women with long, sleek hair or the featherage of startled birds, bouncy dark hair and beautiful bald men.
I smelled the flowers there within the skyway, in the quiet dripping flowershop and passed by Mr. Moustache drab and downcast. I saw locked bathroom doors and a midget three-story building huddled in among the rest, with antler satellite dishes like mushrooms on a pink, square hill in the enchanted forest of frozen skyscrapers. I saw white-clad working men pacing casually on strapped on stilts, a black man with long fingers wiping at his head, and I saw large, looping read earrings hanging from an empty space between. I saw the chewing, massive jaws of women with full faces and heroic mouthfuls; I saw a salad eater with white dressing on his bulging maw—I would have punched the glass he faced, had I not lacked the gall. Bearded readers saw I too, haughty, prissy dullards at the till, slack faces under caps with flapping ears, heard silly, electronic conversations, heard the man just out of jail preoccupied with fines, saw an ugly studious girl . . . these I saw, all these I saw.
I need an epithet, I thought, turning when I had reached a mysterious dead end in the skyway dimly lit by the front of a coke machine. I need . . . an epitaph:
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight and the noon’s repose.
I have become a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.