On The Subway
The poem that I have chosen to write and analyze is “On The Subway” by Sharon Olds. It was written in 1987 and is in one of Olds three books that she has had published called “The Gold Cell.” The other books that Olds has written are “Satan Days”(1980) and “The Dead and the Living”(1983). Olds, who was born in San Francisco, has won a National Book Critics Circle Award for her poetry. The poem is about the speaker of the poem in a subway car sitting across from a boy that frightens her a little bit. She does not know the boy and is a little leery about who he is and what he could do to her. This is a good poem about everyday life in the real life that could happen to anybody and contains many questions that many people ask their-selves everyday.
I chose this poem because I liked the way that it was similar to everyday life in the real world. There is the speaker of the poem who is on a subway in the city and is a frightened by the appearance of another boy on the subway with her. In this entry it does not specifically state how the speaker is and wether it was a incident that happened to the poet. The speaker talks about
John H. Cross
September 22, 1999
how the boy’s appearance frightens her. She talks about his big feet with dark black sneakers with white laces and how they looked like a set intentional scars. Olds talked about what he looks like when he sees him, “He has the casual cold look of a mugger, alert under hooded lids” (7-9). She says that he is wearing red, which makes her thing of the blood inside of one’s body. The speaker has on her black fur coat which makes for an inviting target.
In the middle of the poem, the speaker questions who has the power between her and the boy in the subway. She says “…I don’t know if I am in his power-……or if he is in my power”(14-18). She is saying that she is getting all worried about this boy that is in the subway with her, but she does not even know him or he does not know her. For all she knows he is the nicest young man alive. When she questions who has the power between them, I think she is talking about how she frightened by him but he could be just as intimidated about her as she is with him. She also says “…I am living off his life, eating the steak he does not eat, as if I am taking the food from his mouth”(18-21). She is saying that she is so afraid of him that she is
making him her first priority. That is all she can think about and she can’t stop worrying about what he could do to her. She stated that he could take her fur coat away, her briefcase, her whole life. He could stripe her of her pride if he mugged her like she fears.
She also mentions the color of their skin and how it could play a role. The speaker being a white women and the boy being black. This poem is only told from one point of view, which
John H. Cross
September 22, 1999
is that of the women’s. You don’t get a full grasp of what the boy is thinking, you just have to go by what you interpret through his actions and what she tells you throughout the poem. The setting of this poem also plays a big part of the reaction of the reader. With it being in a subway and that is where many crimes take place in the city and it has a reputation for being a dangerous place for people including women. This poem creates a good image in the readers mind by having a poem like this take place where it did. It is easy for the reader to picture this in there mind.
In the end of the story Old’s concludes by talking about how her life could be taken away and she talks about her white skin again. She mentions the boy “…at birth was dark and fluid and rich as the heart of a seedling ready to thrust up into any available light”(32-34). I think that she means that this young black boy could do anything to her to add some life to his life, and by doing that would ruin her life. I think that she should never had judged this boy, because she does not know him.
Henderson, Gloria Mason, Bill Day, and Sandra Stevenson Waller. Literature and Ourselves. 2nd ed., 1997. New York: Addison-Wesley Publishers.