Student Work- A Solitary Tango By Talia Cohen

The following spoken-word poem was performed by junior Talia Cohen at this year’s Mayfair. Cohen is a resident of New York City.  

“Mind the gap between the train and the platform”

Is what they say to people boarding trains in London

But here they warn commuters in electric gargles

And I just know not to trip

Because this is a subway

Not a “tube”

Which means you have to mind other things

Things like holding your bag in a way that exhibits

Just the right level of pickpocket paranoia—

Because you don’t want to seem too rude

But you sure as hell don’t want to seem too nice

Act too nice, and people are going to think that you’re gullible

Or that you’re a creep

Or maybe some really gullible creep

But if you look at me, you’ll see that I strike the perfect balance of

“I am an openhearted soul who loves humanity”


“Get away from me because I will call the cops.”

Because I know the subway like the back of my hand

And that may be a back-handed fact because

I don’t actually stare at the backs of my hands that often

But no one does

Why would anyone look at their hands when you

Can slice pixilated watermelons with an artisanal machete,

Or add enough pastel-colored square 2’s together to reach 2048?



Let eye-contact put a “pod” in the middle

And let me focus on not tapping the white tiles

Because it requires way more concentration than I’d like to admit.

Watch as I expertly tiptoe on a shared tightrope

Of apathy, trepidation, and poise

Successfully ignoring the continuous flow

Of break-dancers

And bootleg-DVD merchants

And homeless people singing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”

Because I don’t actually have any money on me

And if I pretend that I can’t see them

Maybe they can’t see me



(Though not without warning)

I pick up snippets of a drunken monologue

Falling from the mouth of man that

The corners of my eyes have just stopped cutting

“And then I told him,”

He says in a sort of sassy drawl--

“You can tango by your damn self,

I’m ‘a go ahead and limbo.’”

And maybe it’s lingering tang of beer in the air that does it,

But he says,

 “You can tango by you’re damn self,

I’m ‘a go ahead and limbo.”


For one moment

I-pod contact drops the “pod”

And everyone on the subway—

In the tube compartment starts to laugh

Because someone just said something that was pretty hilarious

And we can all get a little tired of tangoing

By our damn and suited selves.