Incident at 77th Street

Atlantic Avenue Tunnel, Brooklyn, NYC


While this poem describes a real event, the thoughts and intents of the heart relayed  cannot possibly be that of  the unfortunate woman described with great poetic license here, and are of the human condition alone–or perhaps only the writer’s own.

In that moment, before the
train hit–with her mute face
pressed to the tunnel wall;
was she knowing then the fraudulence
of that blind and foolish leap
from the subway platform to the darkness below,
that ridiculous faith in her strength?  Did she find

in the end, there was really no warm hand to hold
in its digital skin, in that piece of plastic retrieved
from those unforgiving tracks?
It bore only deceiving marks on a screen,
some reminders of important things?
Shamed, did she send back to that pandemonium
in the station, one last bleak look: Oh, save me?

In the relentless stare of a headlight,
in the horn’s three moans of warning,
in the horror of that engine’s thunder,
with the blast of air beginning,
was there now a recognition
that she had always longed for a lie,
had always reached for the wrong thing?

Now at her journey’s end,
did she call for someone to just leap down
and help her bear the weight of oppressive sound
with some warmth of common grace?
Now, was there just this chaos of shared terror?
Now no one to cover over her,
Now–was there really no Savior?

Or, in that last moment, before the impact,
did she turn, like another repentant thief
into His presence, in her aloneness?
So that our dread became a mere shadow
that pressed a kind of darkness upon her
and passed over her in silence, leaving
her breathless–but at last,  truly alive?


Explore posts in the same categories: Poetry

4 Comments on “Incident at 77th Street”

  1. julie Says:

    Love this! It is my hope for so many who are at death’s door that they respond to the Lord who is “near to the broken hearted.”

    Glad the weeds aren’t so numerous so as to keep you away without popping back in from time to time! Happy gardening!

  2. Karen Butler Says:

    Thank you Julie!

    I was deeply affected by this real event, that happened during my visit to New York to see a friend’s gallery opening in March. I nearly missed witnessing it–I was delayed by a meandering walk to the 86th street station.

    Sometimes I feel very much like that woman, who lost her life retrieving a gym bag that contained a water bottle, workout clothes, and her cell phone. Upside down values! And when my priorities need occasional re-orienting, it is time to garden.

    But today it is raining.

  3. beky Says:

    heavy moms. yeah that is HEAVY. real spit tho. i like it. people are crazy but that’s sad. and kinda very pathetic too. can’t help wondering what she was thinking so i like how you explore that. an ya got a knack for this writing thing ya know – i can feel the ground shaking as the train approaches. damn tho what else happened in n.y.c.?? holding out on me now? forreal it’s like that? i’d put some money on it ya got more than a coupla crazy stories up ya sleeve still. lil mrs. globetrotter. yeah i’m talkin to you. xo

    • Karen Butler Says:

      I can’t think of a better comment you could have made, dear one. Because that is exactly what I was trying to convey, the sound of the train approaching, and the terror of being frozen by it.

      So thank you, thank you for getting it. Now I have to get the kids out the door. I love you, and maybe will post about New York later. It was wonderful, mostly. XO

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