the topography of the l train beneath the east river

by Keegan Lester
–for Fern

What is it to be the walking mermaid
on the L train under the East River?
Playing for broken eyes. Violin
an appendage to your body
the only part of you allowed to exist
according to science, while everyone else
drifts off into their own thoughts.
It wasn’t long ago you decided to leave
a one traffic light town where everyone
carried their own lantern into the bayou.
Everyone gaffed flounders, well into evening.
Everyone knew where their lantern’s light,
their toes and the mucky sand diverged.
In this version of jubilee: black sky mornings,
poverty and religion are synonymous
and forgotten. You gave it all up
to try and make it in the city with a violin.
Your mom said “You’ll never make a living,
playing for strangers”, and she was right.
I often forget it’s your choice, regarding
who gets to hear you. And I don’t give a damn
what your mom says, the world’s not
been flat for years and besides, the first time
you let me listen– as everyone else was listening
only to their own thoughts, in the language
of their heads, missed out on the last of something–
I learned I was not yet dying, then was convinced
that dying itself might not exist.


Keegan Lester holds an MFA from Columbia University.  He is one of the co-founders of the journal Souvenir, which can be found here: He has lived in four states in the last four years.  He currently lives in Morgantown, West Virginia.