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“American Tragedy” by Michael Patrick McSweeney

this man I saw today--
a silk-white gel-waved hairpiece
capping a sunless tan & a silver-grey suit--
threw his whole body forward for one instant,
as if he planned to jump
after his smartphone tumbled
through his fingers & down
to the subway tracks,
but he stopped as its screen shouted one last
breath of light before going dark,
the life inside ending with a plastic crack
that quieted as violently as it began.

the man's eyes searched for contact from those of us
around him, who minutes before may have seen
fingers & thoughts twist around a thumb-printed screen
to manipulate a game of colors, numbers & momentum.

I looked away, watched the station walls quake
with impending arrival while the crowd shifted like sand does
in a parking lot on a windy day.
the man's voice rose above the murmuring sea,
badgering a security guard whom I knew sat in the terminal
on his days off & plucked frayed guitar strings for coins.
everyone seemed hunched, holding their newspapers close
like morning-warm blankets.

the caramel skin of the man
reddened with realization
as the train raged into the station
and howled to a rusty stop.
no no no no, I heard him whisper.

everyone slipped into the open train-cars,
jostling close & clutching their e-books & phones
like lanterns on a moonless night.
the man stepped on my foot as the train lurched to life.
he looked me in the eyes & apologized twice.
that was a business phone, he muttered,
his gold-haloed blue eyes flickering.
I nodded & reached to grasp a crowded pole for support.
the man turned away & everything hummed with forward motion.


Michael Patrick McSweeney is an artist and educator from the Boston region. His work has appeared in numerous journals and various regions of the Internet thanks to truly wonderful individuals. He is also the founder and chief financial officer of a used submarine conglomerate, the business website of which can be found at discountsubmarines.wordpress.com, and he hopes you have a great day.