“The Crowd” (1910). Robert Demachy (French, 1859–1936); oil print. Image courtesy of the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Now we’re fissioned—it releases
enough desire to fuel the empire.
That’s my smudged vision on this

frost-fogged, steamed street
at night’s end in these bright overhead
cones and sweeping twin beams.

We are a flood of particles
stripped from our kin clusters,
spilled bridge elevator tunnel,

sluiced river of want, huffing
to fill our slots and seats, each
thriver promised the dollars

good for what? Pacifiers
to soothe our atomized selves—good
for ales or amaros, sliders or oysters,

smokes blades benzos syringes,
needles made to pierce or to paint,
private conquest games thumb-click

joystick semiautomatic, videoed
nakedness draped in latex to lace—
we’re held in the charged field

predawn till after dusk, grinning
through gritted teeth. Seems a choice
to each, fingers a blur at the keys,

eyes tracking the customer’s,
long as we’re granted our own
intelligent phone and it lights

to our touch, our aloneness isn’t
bottomless, and we have our series
to stream, whose company sings

in our catacombs. It occurs to me
that the empire is alive inside
our anatomy. We’re subdivided,

as an old house turned apartments—
the abstinent grouch upstairs
who stomps and pounds Shut up!,

and the hedonic wrestlers below
who don’t care if the jerk can’t sleep
and must rise in the dark to shoot

through the tube to work. And what
do I note, or invent, in the straight
faces cresting the exit steps?

They press past on the sidewalk,
thin air partitions between.
We’re paved apart from the dirt

and clothed in tones we paint cars
and kitchens, kept driven without
crosstalk or recognition, and swept

in this diurnal rhythm, task
to permitted intermission and back.
It’s a hard vision. Then again

some of us winter well, suspended
in this separateness—I saw you
surface close to mercurial dawn,

into a school of coats, in a rose
flush of exertion. It was eons
ago, yesterday. Do you know

how dangerous it’s become to loiter
at subway exits? I’ve got to
have my brain on the 39th floor,

at the monitor in five minutes.
And if before I turn I see you,
one of the human ions in the flux

up from the underground, then?
That might be all the enmeshment
we get. A trace of heart’s witness

off like a note corked in a flask
across the turbulence. I wouldn’t
dive through the flood to face you.

But I want you to know you were seen—
the blood in your cheeks, a defiant
innocence I’ll daydream I saw

in the soft set of your lips, the unspent
reserve of your love I was sure of
without one spark of evidence.

Jed Myers, a Seattle psychiatrist with a therapy practice and author of Watching the Perseids, has recent poems in Rattle, Poetry Northwest, and The Briar Cliff Review.