Plunging into Lincoln Tunnel,
my daughter stares at the yellowing tiles,
empty glass booths hanging from the walls,
the vertical blue line dividing New Jersey
from New York, and asks what’s above us.
When I say the river, my son exclaims, “Hey, neat,”
but she winces, and I can see she’s imagining
the bed of silt, the tons and tons of water,
even the fish swimming, and far above,
the ships resting lightly on the surface.
In her body, she must feel the fragility of the tube,
the possibility of cracks opening, water replacing air,
people frantic. Don’t be like me, I think.
When I was a boy, we drove up from Baltimore,
my father at the wheel of the Fairlane. Each booth
held a policeman, sometimes waving back at me,
reassuring with their presence. One hundred years ago,
a ferry boat from Hoboken would have weaved
among barges carrying hay for the city’s horses,
vegetables from upstate, and in summer
blocks of ice wrapped in burlap, remnant of winter.
Those people, long gone, the muscled stevedores,
sporting Gibson girls, baseball players with sideburns,
could they have imagined us as we imagine them?
I grip the wheel, suddenly anxious the guy swerving
in his Camaro might change lanes despite the signs.
TV cameras are mounted on the walls. Somewhere
a solitary man watching a bank of monitors
has replaced the policemen. It can’t be healthy down here.
Even with the AC on, I can smell the fumes.
Just when I think the tunnel will last forever,
we pop into sunlight, and I imagine my daughter’s relief.
As we head up Westside Highway,
she points to a soccer game in the park.