Lincoln Center Subway

It’s Orpheus in the underground.
He’s working the downtown platform, playing a metal flute
from music propped on a stand. At his feet, a tenor sax
lies curled like a tamed beast.
In its case’s open lid lies a scatter of coins and bills
he’s dropped like a heavy hint.
The platform’s filling up with the end-of-the-opera crowd,
but his collection’s not. Orpheus isn’t pleased.
“Hey, people, give me a break. I’m playing here for nothing.
Spare me a couple of bucks, whatever you want to give.”

Would you believe it, a busker with attitude?
But as it’s New York, the crowd’s got attitude too.
The looks they give say it all.
This guy thinks he’s got rights?
Hell will freeze over before they’ll come through for him.
It’s not their fault he’s begging on the streets.
Who is he anyway? Some Julliard drop-out jerk,
who didn’t have the chops to make it
up there as far as the orchestra pit
and ended up hustling down here?

They think they’re still in heaven, or the gods,
reprising in their heads divine Mozart arias.
The Met was bliss tonight; they won’t let this loser spoil it.
Whatever he’s playing, it isn’t a magic flute.
They don’t give a damn about poverty right now,
not this guy’s, nor anyone’s, not even Mozart’s.
There’s a rumble; the platform shakes; a train appears.
Tough audience, Orpheus thinks, but there’ll be another one soon.
His head, still playing, bobs above the stand.
They look as if they’d like to tear him to bits.



Stephen Claughton’s poems have appeared in Agenda, The Interpreter’s House, Iota, London Grip, Other Poetry and The Warwick Review and are forthcoming in Poetry Salzburg Review . He has twice been nominated for the Forward Best Single Poem Prize.  Twitter @claughton_s