…….(From an undated photograph
……..of New York City subway construction workers)
3. Four Men Under a River
They’ve arrived. Survived
the Atlantic, that oily black cur growling
day and night like the ship’s engine
at their ears. Survived the deepest
deck heaving human muck, the awful
undertow of yearning that pulled
them clear across the sea. They’ve arrived,
landing in this cave below a river, on the jagged
shores of an underworld reserved for men
like them. The work boots of the man up front
tilt oddly, as if struggling for a toehold,
high laces like rope ladders climbing the darkness.
Entering the airlock to descend
the caisson, did they know that hunger
would return to consume them?
That with every breath,
they would once more feel the crashing
ocean in their heads?
They’ve arrived, shoulders sloped
as if the men themselves were ballast –
a gritty mass laid down at the foundation
of what will surely rise.
“The Passage” first appeared in Southern Poetry Review and appears in full in The Bodies We Were Loaned (The Word Works). Maria Terrone’s most recent book is American Gothic, Take 2 (Finishing Line Press). She is currently at Queens College and has been at CUNY since 1990.