“The Lovers” from Don’t Go Back to Sleep by Timothy Liu, 2014. Reprinted by permission of Saturnalia Books. "Artemis, Acrobats, Divas and Dancers" by Nancy Spero, 2001 (courtesy MTA Arts & Design)

If you’re one of the approximately two million New Yorkers who ride the subway everyday, keep your eyes peeled. Beside the ubiquitous ads for new instant delivery apps and yellow posters displaying messages like “Masks are like opinions / Everyone should have one,” you might see two new poems unobtrusively hanging on the train cars’ walls. Amidst a visual landscape of pandemic-wrought atomization melded with consumerist creature comforts, the poems offer a rather different sort of solace. Like new kids at school, they’re shy and easy to take no notice of — but spending time with them might bring about unexpected connection and joy. 

The two new poems, selected by MTA Arts & Design in collaboration with the Poetry Society of America as part of the “Poetry in Motion” series, are Agha Shahid Ali’s “Stationery” and Timothy Liu’s “The Lovers.” Each of the texts are paired with illustrations of artwork in the MTA Arts & Design collection.

“Stationery,” which imagines the night, the day, and the world as “full of paper” — stationery upon which to write letters to one another — is presented against an abstract pattern from Jim Hodges’ large ceiling installation at the Grand Central-42 St Station “I dreamed a world and called it Love,” unveiled just over a year ago. “The Lovers,” which touches on themes of fate, love, and eternity, is set next to a drawing of Nancy Spero’s “Acrobats, Divas and Dancers”, a glass and ceramic mosaic installed at 66 St-Lincoln Center Station in 2004.

“Stationery” from The Half-Inch Himalayas by Agha Shahid Ali, 1987. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press. “I dreamed a world and called it Love” by Jim Hodges, 2021 (courtesy MTA Arts & Design)

The poems will be on view framed in train cars and on digital displays in stations, and arrive at a time when ridership has dropped again due to the omicron surge. (Just yesterday, the MTA announced a pilot fare program that it hopes will bring New Yorkers back on the subway.) “Poetry in Motion,” which launched two decades ago, has exhibited over 200 poems or excerpts across New York City, and continues to expand its repertoire, selecting two per quarter.

“The poems of Agha Shahid Ali and Timothy Liu speak of longing and belonging, the ways in which love transforms our world and creates attachments that defy time and distance, even destiny,” Matt Brogan, executive director of the Poetry Society of America, said in a statement. “They remind us that the language of love, for us as individuals and for our society, must always be renewed.”

Jasmine Liu is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she studied anthropology and mathematics at Stanford University.