I had the pleasure of hearing Kyle Lee-Crossett perform this poem, “Modes of Transportation,” at the Stanford Spoken Word Collective’s spring show on May 20. Lee-Crossett is a sophomore majoring in English with a focus on urbanism and technology.
About this piece, he told Urbanter: “‘Modes of Transportation’ is a poem about creating meaning in the ways we choose to move through space. Before I cut it down to its final form, the poem also spent more time looking at urban studies-style questions like, ‘What are the differences between how maps and books describe places and people’s experiences of them?'”
With permission, the poem is published below. More of Lee-Crossett’s urban-landscape poetry, including a piece “about what it means to be at home in a city,” is here, on the collective’s blog.
Modes of Transportation
By Kyle Lee-Crossett
We hadn’t looked at the map in a long time,
but we weren’t lost. Emily and I were going to visit a museum perched
at the tip of the coast
at the end of a straight line street that began in the heart of the city.
We’d been walking for a long time,
mostly because we were too poor for public transportation,
but also because vacation is about taking the scenic route,
seeing as beautiful even it’s just
a grey city morning
like any other morning
in any other grey city you’ve been to.
To keep myself walking past these tired and tranquil morning places,
I pretend that I am a character,
a better-drawn version of myself.
Character is a mode of transportation.
Sometimes I am the Wanderer,
folding an epic into my day, even if the end of the quest is just a good cup of coffee.
Sometimes I am the Jaded Urban Traveler,
hard only because I share a heart with the city.
And sometimes I am the Romantic Hero, talking to people who are boring, because if I keep meeting people, maybe someday I will meet someone who will matter to me.
I meet a girl like this in the winter, and leave her again in the spring.
She didn’t love me, but it was enough to keep me moving for a while.
After two hours of this
walking, we finally look at the map
and discover a tiny, helpful note at the bottom that read:
“Some distances have been compressed.”
In this case, seven miles–uphill–had been shrunk and shoved into
an inch and a half of map.
So, that when we finally got to the museum and sat down in the café,
that we were never going to move again.
Under the table, Emily pulled off her rain boots and we saw blood
spots in her thick socks. We are both horrified and delighted
proud mouths and sore feet.
This was something I’d be able to tell my grandkids! Back in my day, we walked!
We walked until our feet bled!
Well no, not my feet.
Because we are now wounded heroes,
we take a bus back and go downhill in a rush of afternoon light.
I stare out the window.
Daydreaming is a mode of transportation.
When you figure out how to dream the world,
the way you used to stare out the window of the school bus,
then the world will know you are looking for something.
On our way out of the museum
we had to ask the woman at the front desk where the buses left, which one to take.
She’d paused for a moment and then asked us,
“But how did you get here?”
We walked, we said, but we could tell from her blank look
that clearly wasn’t an answer she accepted, or understood.
Who would be stupid enough to walk from downtown?
So she asked it again.
How did you get here?
How do you start answering that question? Where can you begin?
I’m not going to tell you the history of my family, or of all the planes
I’ve taken from home to no-home
or not-home to home
or from not-home to just passing
My life is a series of small movements, of modes of transportation
like the rough glide of bikes over pavement, the steady stomping of rain boots, yawns, nervous habits,
things that don’t seem like movement at all.
Small motions like how
someone who used to love you
can still make the same love-gestures,
a soft twist of their eyes, or their mouth sliding into a smile that meant you, just you
as if their body hasn’t yet learned of their decision to leave you,
as if it were being dragged behind them like a dumb animal on a rope.
You wish it didn’t feel
wrong, their smile, an empty intimacy that shakes you and stills your breath in your throat.
How do you keep moving after that?
During my broken-heart summer, I took trains, where the land sped out from under me and I didn’t see anything through the window from my seat. There was something in me that stopped moving, that I’m still trying to rub into life, like something brought in from the cold.
I’ve been gathering modes of transportation
close in my hands.
I have yet to figure out how I got here, yet to figure out what keeps me moving, except sometimes you realize that “some distances may have been compressed”
but you just can’t imagine stopping on that grey coast, forever.
In this world, your body is the only vehicle you get to keep
Use it to walk more.
I am not saying: abandon your cars until they slowly rust and grow gardens on highways.
I am saying:
maybe not literally, but take the scenic route, move with meaning.
Count how many miles you’ve gone.
Because someone might ask you,
how did you get here, today.
Photo: daniel_dimarco/Creative Commons