Sometimes there are no words, just a tugging feeling down deep in the gut.
These are the words that were in my mind as I left work this weekend. As I was leaving work, I looked over to my left and caught a glimpse of a person hunched over sitting on the porch of the abandoned Celebration Station building. I was going to keep going. I admit it. As I was driving away, something from deep within me urged me to turn and go back. It could be someone who tries to hurt you, another voice struggled to be heard. I ignored the second voice.
I didn’t get out of my car. I couldn’t know who or what I was seeing until I was right up close. Turns out it was a woman who looked up at me. I asked if she wanted money to get something warm. Not ten minutes before, I’d been lamenting the cold weather as I raced from the building where my class is held to the parking lot where I’d parked my car. It was cold out, so my first thought was to offer her money so that she could get something to warm herself.
In front of her on the ground were several bottles of water and she was wrapped in a couple of blankets. But, still, it was cold out there. I reached in my purse and pulled out a $20 bill. Instinct. That’s all it was. She didn’t even look down at what I’d placed in her hand until she’d started to walk away. Then she turned around and the look on her face was one of anguish. “I can’t take this. It’s too much,” she told me.
It’s cold out. That’s all I kept thinking. Tears welled in my eyes. Of course she would take it. She had to. There was no way I was going to take the money back. She’d been crying the entire time and now we both were crying. I didn’t take the money back.
It’s cold out. All I gave her was 20 fucking dollars. She said it was too much and yet I drove away feeling like I hadn’t done anything. I wished I could do more.
(This is one of those times when there are no words. Only feelings. And some tears. So, there’s no poem. There’s nothing other than one heart reaching out to another, hoping to bring some relief. At least for a little while.)
I wrote the words above on Saturday after I left work. All day long I thought of that woman, and my heart broke time after time because I felt like I’d not done enough.
I teach a Tuesday class, as well. Tonight when I was leaving class, I saw a man standing beside his car as I passed the abandoned bus terminal on American Way. He was talking to a man lying on the sidewalk. The man was bundled up tight, but still, he was lying on the sidewalk. Not in a bed.
What I couldn’t put into words on Saturday came to me tonight:
I’m ashamed to admit
I live in a world where
people don’t seem to give
a shit that people sleep
on the sidewalk or streets,
their heads wrapped in
sidewalk spit, shit & you know
sometimes people take a piss there—
all this shit
like a headband to keep out the cold.
The tears you see in my eyes
cannot begin to help you realize
that shallow ass statements like
it could be worse mean absolutely
nothing till you see the hearse
pull up to the bus station lot
to collect the body of somebody’s pop,
pop who wasn’t good enough
for a fucking cot
in the basement or the garage.
That’s the shape we’re in &
it’s almost a sin
that twenty dollar bills
are too hard to come by
my pockets’ nearly empty
all I have are tears
a dollar bill never will
be able to stretch
wide enough to protect
from the cold & never stretch
far enough to feed a man
who’s outgrown his clothes &
his humanity – Nope, I mean human –ness
cuz it’s some mess when
a singing bird will crow all about
animals left in the cold, but
nobody gives a damn about
a man, woman, child
with no fucking place to go.
That’s not your problem, right
It’s too big of a fight
for you to even don your gloves
so pops sleeps covered with mud
in double digit temps that are trying
to go solo
cuz he ain’t got no fucking where to go.
Do the plethora of cuss words
hurt your ears – oh so that’s what I feared
you’re one of those folks
more concerned with listening to the messenger
than hearing the message, well I’ll tell you this
while you’re trying to figure how to
wash my mouth with soap and water,
I’m trying to wash your soul with the soap of truth.
When I hold up a mirror to look at you….and me too
I see a man just like you, lying in the streets
knowing life has beat the shit outta him &
now he’s lying at life’s feet
seeking a reprieve &
all he got was left in the cold.
Peace & Love,