Linda Lerner

Survival Lines

The line stretched down a long block
rounding a corner and crisscrossing
with other lines I’d stood on to protest
a war or an injustice which often
mobbed out of control;

this line stayed intact, unlike
lines in New York to see a movie,
get on a plane or for a store sale, had
a different urgency about it

no one joked or smiled, stood apart
as though behind bars we looked out from,
struggling to stay warm on
a bitterly cold day, stamped our feet
or moved back & forth in place

one man pointed to a nearby building
where he worked on Jay street, wished
he could wait inside; another said
he buried his brother last week,
didn’t say why; didn’t have to

I knew why I was on this line
unlike one sudden street closings
around Times Square forced me on
as I was heading to the theatre;
feeling trapped and angry

hadn’t smelled smoke coming from a car
two vendors spotted, or that a bomb
which had been ignited failed to go off
until I was safely off that line;

craning my neck to see how much further
bumped into my mother’s voice on a 1930’s line
to buy food, bank lines my grandfather
and others stood on for hours to withdraw money
knocked off by, that’s all for today voice
reaching me nearly a century later

as inch by inch the line I stood on
moved past it


Linda Lerner is the author of 19 collections, most recent, Taking the F train (NYQ books, 2021). Her poems currently appear in, Maintenant, Paterson Literary Review, Gargoyle, Chiron Review, One Art and Shot Glass Journal, among others. Previous books include Takes Guts and Years Sometimes & Yes, the Ducks Were Real, NYQ Books (2011& 2015);  Death is a Red Balloon was published by Lummox Press, Nov. 20019.