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Sitting on the subway, I began to look around me.
A young man, round-faced, brown-skinned, alone,
was holding a small plastic container
cradled in his hands. On the box beside him,
I read the words Starter Habitat.

It was Sunday, around noon.
The train was half empty. I sat there,
looking out from within
A familiar sadness. Then I found myself rising,
crossing over toward him,
curious—Do you have an animal in there?

Lizard, he answered, and our eyes met
briefly, as he held out the container, open at the top. 
Inside, the lizard trembled, slender and minute.
I looked into the face of the boy, 
for he was really still a child.

Is he shaking because of the vibrations of the subway? I asked.
He’s afraid, the boy said. He’s just three weeks old.
Will he get bigger? I asked.
Yes, he said, Really big, and then, Do you like animals?
for I was admiring his creature,
poised in the center of the white plastic floor,
looking around to get its bearings, 
alert for something to know in this emptiness, 
its intelligent being all aquiver. 

Yes, I do, I said, wanting to affirm the connection
he’d named between us. 
And I stood beside the young man 
a little longer, holding on 
as the train roared forward.
Neither of us spoke.


Hilary Sallick is the author of Asking the Form (Cervena Barva Press, 2020) and Winter Roses (Finishing Line Press, 2017). Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Lily Poetry Review, The Poetry Porch, Caveat Lector, Ibbetson Street, and other journals. She teaches reading and writing to adult learners in Somerville, MA, and she is vice-president of the New England Poetry Club. To learn more, go to

© 2020, Hilary Sallick

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