by Claude McKay

Far down, down through the city’s great gaunt gut
The gray train rushing bears the weary wind;
In the packed cars the fans the crowd’s breath cut,
Leaving the sick and heavy air behind.
And pale-cheeked children seek the upper door
To give their summer jackets to the breeze;
Their laugh is swallowed in the deafening roar
Of captive wind that moans for fields and seas;
Seas cooling warm where native schooners drift
Through sleepy waters, while gulls wheel and sweep,
Waiting for windy waves the keels to lift
Lightly among the islands of the deep;
Islands of lofy palm trees blooming white
That led their perfume to the tropic sea,
Where fields lie idle in the dew-drenched night,
And the Trades float above them fresh and free.

SOURCE:  “Subway Wind” appears in Claude McKay: Complete Poems (University of Illinois Press,  2008), available at

PAINTING: “Self Portrait at 14th Street Station” by Alfredo Arcia. Prints available at


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Festus Claudius “Claude” McKay (1889–1948) was a Jamaican-American writer and poet whose novels include Home to Harlem (1928), a bestseller that won the Harmon Gold Award for Literature, Banjo (1929), and Banana Bottom (1933). McKay also authored collections of poetry, a collection of short stories, Gingertown (1932), and two autobiographical books, A Long Way from Home (1937) and My Green Hills of Jamaica (published posthumously). His 1922 poetry collection, Harlem Shadows, was among the first books published during the Harlem Renaissance.