There have always been singers underground. There’s the young, hermaphroditic violinist who spends mornings hunched and moaning above its splayed-open violin case, bony limbs flailing beneath layers of silken scarves and a shock of jet-black hair hanging to its chin. There’s the blind couple, both obese and almost entirely toothless, him extending a cut-open milk jug for donations as they harmonize on Christmas carols year-round, her guide dog curled obediently at her feet. And, after all these weeks, I see that he still comes, too, singing in the same space between the Walgreens and the Juan Valdez coffee kiosk. Today his hair is cropped close to his skull, his khakis are faded but well pressed, and his blue-and-black striped tie is only slightly loosened at the neck of his worn white Oxford, crescents of sweat fanning out from beneath his exuberant arms.
It was, surely, the singer’s appearance that drew me to him in the first place, looking as he did as if he’d just come from behind a spreadsheet himself. His delivery was as crisp as his attire, yes, but it was the yearning beneath it, the slightest of scratches in his voice that pulled me into his renditions of The Beatles, old-school Philly Motown, the occasional Everly Brothers classic. And as he sang he would take a step or two toward me with a look of such passion, such transport on his face that I pretended not to care if he was always staring at some transcendent point above my head. It was as if he was saying, “We are all better than this, these days of drudgery in the cubicles that corral us. There is something above us that I can see, and I see – and sing – it for all of us.”
Picture my wife waiting at the dinner table, my son alone in a darkened parking lot an hour after soccer practice had ended. Instead I would find myself still crouched, unmoving, as he finally stopped singing at exactly 9:00 p.m. and scooped his earnings into a battered old laptop case, never pausing to count all that I had bestowed upon him, my piles of fives and tens, my Fossil watch, my BlackBerry, my favorite Kenneth Cole tie. Never once did he pause to look me in the eye, always pulling his sleeve from between my fingers with just the slightest tug.
Today is a muggy August Monday, my first day back in the office after a week spent in Sea Isle City with my family, and I find myself returning to the vast catacombs of Suburban Station. Each time I dozed off beneath the scorching Jersey sun I would dream of him, the hitch in his voice, the grace in even his most spontaneous gestures. Today as I approach, not even a solitary commuter pauses to toss a nickel or hear a snatch of song, and I imagine that his eyes finally flicker across mine for the first time. I have this fist full of coins, I realize, quarters left from Skee-Ball with my son at the shore, and in that moment I’m unsure if I want to drop them at his feet or smash them into his euphoric face.
Chris McCreary is the author of three books of poems, most recently Undone : A Fakebook (Furniture Press), and he co-edits ixnay press (www.ixnaypress.com), a tiny Philadelphia-based poetry press. His recent story, "Kid Cyclone & The Birdman of Avalon," was just published in BlazeVOX 11. In addition, he has reviewed fiction and poetry for venues such as Rain Taxi and The Poetry Project Newsletter.