Herewith the first installment in a series of posts entitled “The Pathos of Everyday Life.” It will use words to entrain ruminations on lived reality. Pathos is understood here as an element in experience or in artistic representation evoking pity or compassion.

One is comfortably seated on an LIRR train from Penn Station to Mineola. The terminus is Ronkokoma, one of several towns on Long Island whose names evoke American Indian tribes and their language. Note that Ronkokoma (an adaptation of an Algonquin word) has a decided prosodic structure: a monosyllabic anacrusis followed by a dactylic clausula. It has three sonorants (r, n, m) and only one obstruent (k), but this true consonant is placed immediately before the stressed vowel (Ronkónkoma). It is this phonetic structure that limns the word and invites repetition for the sound’s sake alone.

Great thunderheads in the October sky lower as the train makes its way through the derelict houses and household detritus trackside. Airplanes coming in for a landing in Queens at JFK International Airport intersect with the clouds and buildings to suggest a constructivist painting.

One learns a new use of the word platform, viz. as a verb: “The front cars do not platform at Woodside,” proclaims the public address system. One announcement in particular, delivered in flawless diction by a disembodied but sure-footed baritone, begins to sound poetic: “As you leave the train, be careful to step over the gap between the train and the platform.”

It is then, for some mysterious reason, that the final four lines from a Russian poem dedicated to his wife (Y-H-B’s mother of blessed memory) by the musician-poet Constantine Shapiro (1896-1992) float unbidden into one’s consciousness:

Поэт Вам счастия желает,
Он жизнь спокойную сулит
Тому, в душе чьей обитает
Любовь и правды верный щит.

(The poet wishes you happiness,
He foretells a peaceful life
For one in whose soul reside
Love and truth’s faithful shield.)