Don’t Fall, Sister, Dana Robbins

Red Canyon Petroglyph, Probably a Defacement?


Don’t Fall, Sister


Like so many things, it was fun in the beginning,
riding the subway to my first summer job, in midtown,
learning how to match my legs to the rolling of the train
as if I were on a ship, how to hold the pole just right,
not too high, not too low.

After the stroke, riding the subway was not easy,
but I had to get from Brooklyn to my job in Manhattan,
and every New Yorker knows the bus is too slow.
Not easy, letting two trains go by before I could squeeze
in. Once I got caught in the door, which closed faster
than I could move.

Yet there was a joy to it, being part of the great
moving mass: a mother from Latin America with long
braids, next to an African woman brilliant as a bird
in a colorful headdress, cheek by jowl with a young
Hasidic woman with a double stroller and tired eyes,
drag queen sitting next to a clean-cut Midwesterner.

And the music, don’t forget the music, hollow pipes,
played by diminutive Peruvian men, saxophone solos;
break-dancers who somersaulted through the moving
train; the barbershop quartet that, as I lurched trying
to hand them a dollar, sang “Don’t fall, sister, don’t fall.”

Dana Robbins



Review by Leah Stenson

The title of the poem is intriguing. We don’t know what’s going to happen or how a fall is going to occur, and when we learn we’re riding the NYC subway, we’re even more wary, not sure what kind of ride we’re going to experience. Just when the poet accustoms herself to the art of subway riding, we’re thrown off balance when we hear “After the stroke, riding the subway was not easy…”.  At this point, the poem could have easily launched into the challenges of dealing with the stroke’s aftermath, but after a few phrases that sum up the obstacles, with no mention of falling, the poet revels in joy “…of the great moving mass…”—the mass of humanity comprised of a vibrant array of ethnic individuals. I was right there with her sharing her joy, a joy intensified by the occasional encounter with Peruvian musicians, solo saxophonists and “break-dancers who somersaulted through the moving train,” all part of the ecology of the subway system. What could have been a sad ride—rats on the tracks, strung-out drug addicts, passengers pushing and shoving—is instead a testimony to the beauty of humanity. The final unexpected turn comes when the meaning of the title is revealed in the last line. As the poet moves to express her gratitude, she loses her balance trying to give a dollar to a barbershop quartet, and they sing out “Don’t fall, sister, don’t fall.” How uplifting.

These days, it’s hard to find good upbeat poems that inspire. “Don’t Fall…” presents a vivid snapshot of an aspect of city life that doesn’t get enough attention, and that is the compassion of strangers, always present, even in a big bad city like New York. Robbins’ poem shows us a delightful and realistic slice of life which entertains, informs and gives us hope—and as an ex-New Yorker, I can attest that the depiction of subway culture is spot on.


Review by Karen O’Leary

I like the title. The imagery in the first three stanzas works well to carry the writer’s thoughts. The last stanza is a bit confusing as it presents visual images that I cannot imagine happening on a train, ex. “break-dancers who somersaulted through the moving train” Maybe some type of entering into a daydream would be more realistic? I got a chuckle out of the song “Don’t fall, sister, don’t fall.” Delightful piece.



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