Subku = Subway Haiku


My friend Louise has the most unusual kind of memory. It’s called Superior Autobiographical Memory and it gives her an almost total recall of daily details that, for the rest of us, fade within hours. (She’s also a fantastic violinist and endlessly inventive cook. Check out her Kitchen Fiddler blog) Louise will be the first to tell you, however, that this rare ability is not always a blessing. Some things in life are good to forget. But, living in New York, I’ve always wished I could remember more of the unusual scenes that I witness every day.

Last week I shared how writing Haiku on the subway—what I call “Subku”—has given me that gift. Observing my fellow subway riders and then crafting vignettes into verse turns a temporary distraction into a permanent memory.

I enter the subway car, sit down, and it’s nearly always the same. Glancing at my neighbors, I say to myself, “Nothing is happening. Everyone is in their own world. There’s nothing here I can write about.” But I’ve committed myself to crafting an original Haiku, and I have to do it before the doors open at my destination—five stops away. So I look intently now. I focus on the smallest details. And then, almost inevitably, I see something—something worth remembering. I start to count on my fingers. Line one… five syllables. Line two… seven. Line three… five. Slowly at first, then faster and faster, a poem comes together.

Sits with heavy eyes
Fighting sleep—a long day’s work
Finally gives in.

The train pulls in to my stop. I’ve got my Haiku.