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Poetry / Kate Maxwell

'Peak Hour'

Issue 1. February 01, 2021


It’s that wet concrete smell that lingers

pooled into corners; 

            a cigarette butt or two

           maybe a soggy tissue 

           or crust of mouldy pizza  

that settles just below nostrils.

You want to itch, brush it off 

but haven’t a free hand 

clutching your plastic bag 

of going-cold-curry

and ticket in the other.

The stink and grime and metal handrail

all ready to transmit 

the stink and grime of everybody else 

and everybody else is everywhere

brushing up against your side

your nerves, coughing, talking 

loudly on their phones

filling up spaces 

with stale sweat business shirts

hair sprayed heads and round bellies.

Even on a cold day, air is rank and humid 

in the bowels of the subway

with the sharp tingle of iron 

that laps up body oils, farts back

metallic fumes into over-peopled air. 

So, you suspect the curry may not last 

     -       could be a gastric gamble

if you miss this next train. 

The platform, now so crowded 

people edging closer to the yellow line 

with all their curries, milk, and Caesar 

salads, trying to get home.


And no one is beautiful in this train.

Shoulder to shoulder, pore to pore

even the young and soft

so toned and tanned, but close up

with congealed globs of mascara

in the corners of their eyes 

or acne rashes rubbing collars. 

You close your eyes: dream of soap 

and fresh air as you count 

down to destination.

And do it all again tomorrow.

Kate Maxwell is yet another teacher with writing aspirations. She’s been published and awarded in Australian and International literary magazines. Kate’s interests include film, wine and sleeping. Her first poetry anthology, will be published with Interactive Publications, Brisbane in 2021. She can be found at 

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