At Fifty

Benjamin S. Grossberg

Then I came to a juncture in my lifein which I was like a child taking a trainto the city for the first time, backbefore the advent of cell phones and laptops,when even light-up watches were a novelty.So that, though it had been a bright morning,even through the train's darkened windows,there is nothing now, not even aisle lightswhen the train enters the tunnelconnecting the city to the mainland,and everything becomes quiet—not that the noise of the train's wheelsagainst the rails, the constant whirring,has ceased, if anything it seems louder,but quiet of human sounds, as if everyoneunderstands that here, in this stretchof the journey, it is better not to speak.The tunnel, long as tunnels go, is linedwith tile, once white, now matte graywith exhaust, and the child sees behindeach the force of water, imagines a tilepopping out and green river rushing in,then other squares around it also popping out.But he knows too, because his father hastold him, that the tunnel is not just underthe river, but under the rock under the river,and this is almost worse, that if the trainbroke down, he would be stuck there,already buried. So he too stays quiet,trying not to add the slightest disturbanceto the air, and maybe everyone elsehas made the same calculation. He canstill see the sides of their arms in the seatsahead of him all the way up the aisle,but it is like they are not there. Soonhe will burst—his father also told him this—into a hive of motion. He has been madeto memorize which escalators to take,which turns, where to sit to waitfor his brother: a weaving through denselypeopled corridors where he must notstop or talk to anyone. But that feelsvery far off, the train yet to rear up,to breach the water's surface like a greatwhale and spit him out on the hard sandof another country. For now, it seemshe will travel below rock forever—stuck in his seat, growing old there—and that to speak even a single wordwill bring it all down on him.

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Author photo of Benjamin S. Grossberg

Benjamin S. Grossberg’s latest book, My Husband Would (University of Tampa, 2020), won the 2021 Connecticut Book Award for poetry. His earlier books include Space Traveler (University of Tampa, 2014) and Sweet Core Orchard (University of Tampa, 2009), winner of the Tampa Review Prize and a Lambda Literary Award. He is Director of Creative Writing at the University of Hartford.

Cover of Image Journal No. 116


Seattle, Washington

Center for Religious Humanism
Seattle Pacific University

Editor in Chief
James K.A. Smith

Poetry Editor
Shane McCrae

Founding Editor
Gregory Wolfe

Image was founded in 1989 to demonstrate the continued vitality and diversity of contemporary art and literature that engage with the religious traditions of Western culture. Now one of the leading literary journals published in English, it is read all over the world—and forms the nexus of a warm and active community.

We believe that the great art that has emerged from these faith traditions is dramatic, not didactic—incarnational, not abstract. And so our focus has been on works of imagination that embody a spiritual struggle, like Jacob wrestling with the angel. In our pages the larger questions of existence intersect with what the poet Albert Goldbarth calls the “greasy doorknobs and salty tearducts” of our everyday lives. Learn more at

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