Looking into a secret world, with their glitter and muscle, I wondered how people live: Miriam Calleja on Sean Singer’s Today in the Taxi

In Today in the Taxi, Sean Singer contemplates his taxi cab clients in the short period they spend with him. Each episode is a prose poem of tangents in thoughts, which takes us on the author’s subconscious journey with or sparked by each person or group encountered. It is a journal and a list, a meditation in logbook form. It is a testament to companionship and loneliness in deceivingly succinct language that packs rich meaning.

Whenever there’s something I don’t get in a poem, poetry collection, or other literary work, I mostly presume it is merely something beyond my grasp, that I’m not getting it yet. This is especially the case with an established poet, but certainly also with any poet. I rely on every poet’s unwritten contract with their reader. In Singer’s collection, allegory is slathered on thick, so that this seemingly thin book carries a library of thoughts.

I pictured the Lord and Her shelf of jars and vapors, Her amino acids and carbons, fit together with one black wheel and one white wheel.

As I read Singer’s work with the innocence of a stranger, I notice the titles, and this is where I understand my ignorance. On a superficial level, I am already enjoying the poet’s keen eye. The poet as observer picks up details that could be lost in another’s gaze, but here they are amplified. Commuters in various stages of their journeys drop mannerisms, snippets of conversation, and overheard telephone calls, as windows into their lives.

I thought of Kafka getting grabbed by the collar, dragged through the streets, thrust in the door.

One almost feels that Singer carries these lives far beyond the taxi ride. Perhaps he scribbles notes between passengers, or maybe he lets each experience mull over in his mind, so that by the time he comes to the page, his memory is no longer reliable. Still, he finds ways to prod the humanness of each encounter. Every human being is rendered four-dimensional, a position where perhaps Singer is trying to make us feel time. The poems remind us that truth is far stranger than fiction.

We live in a time whose motor hums the noises of collapse.

There is a lot we presume about temporary company, when we actually look at them. That is, how do people behave in what (for them) is an interim phase of the day? What do they show us of their true nature? Singer, as an observer, focuses on his passenger, while he mostly remains invisible to them. Even in their interactions, the customer remains the focus. They are the paying party, the star of this mini-show.

I remembered a psychiatrist who said children wake up in the middle of the night not to see if you’re there, but if they’re there.

In The Cat and the City by Nick Bradley, we meet a taxi driver who chooses this job in order not to be sitting in an office, in a cubicle, surrounded by other cubicles. But there’s more to it, too. Driving people around feels useful, while being a kind of freedom. And, especially at night, the taxi driver describes himself as an indispensable part of a city, something that keeps it running smoothly.

The sky was overcast and mossy green. I put up with things calmly, without weight, without bones... What was going on in anyone’s head?

The book by Singer is made up of three sections. As though to remind us that this collection is merely a mirror of society, each section includes a poem named after a movie (Drive, Night on Earth, Taxi Driver, Paterson) that has to do with driving others, with obsessions and observations. There are other recurring themes: things that Kafka allegedly said, did, or wrote about, the allegory in each title and sometimes in the poet’s musings, a golem, assorted musicians, and the deity in various forms, She.

You might imagine that he drives them around with them all, these companion characters, that they occupy all the seats in the taxi with almost no space for the passengers. That they, too, make up their own narratives when meeting these temporary acquaintances. Does he choose one to run with in this way? Through whose eyes is Singer writing?

... it was the beginning of a day with promises and cars, motors and ways eroding, to doors, roaring storms, or—or—a song for him only.

Miriam Calleja gives herself and others permission to write. She is the bilingual author of poetry collections Pomegranate Heart, Inside, Stranger Intimacy, the long poem Remember, and the collaboration Luftmeer. Her work has appeared in Odyssey, Transpoesie, and Fly on the Wall Poetry. Her translated work has appeared in the performance Medinea, on Red Fern Review, and is forthcoming in Modern Poetry in Translation. She has read at Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival (Malta), Schamrock Festival for Women Poets (Germany), Poetry on the Lake (Italy), and Wednesday Night Poets (US).