Friday, December 09, 2005


may God bless the man i am thinking about this morning. it snowed early this morning, maybe about four inches. it's cold and damp out there. i hope he is warm. he came up to us last night before the snow. five of us, three poets and two audience members, were hesitating on walking back to our cars. we were the stragglers, the ones who enjoyed company so much that we didn't want to leave even though it was after one in the morning. we congregated in the frigid weather, laughing and joking with each other. our breath made pictures in the air, hanging there, then getting cold and losing its steamy visibility. then he approached us. dirty. perhaps old enough to have fathered some of us. i looked at the circle of us. there was a palpable anxiety. how would this encounter go? one audience member started to audibly balk at the man's approach. one of the poets said, no, wait, hear him out. this could be a poem. the man started his probably often repeated litany. some of us already had our hands in pockets... who would give him what we knew he was asking for?

we, silenced, strained to hear his voice. he was humble. timid with his request. the audience member who started to balk before asked him to speak up, the truck that was passing was drowning him out. he started again, asking for money, he hadn't eaten and was hungry and homeless, he said. could we spare some money, so that he could walk up a block to the all night fast-food joint to get something to eat? the audience member who spoke before pulled out a handful of change and gave it to him.

here, that's all we got. they - nodding towards the rest of the circle - don't have no money.

the man took it, thanked us, i suppose for our attention as much as the change, then walked away. we began to talk about him.

one poet said, you never know if they're asking for food, for real, or if it's for something else. everyone understood that something else meant drugs/liquor/those things people don't approve of.

another poet said, yeah. nodding in agreement, and adding that, with x amount more money, they'll be able to afford the hit that they need... at one o'clock in the morning? he ain't out here for food...

then the audience member, let's call them jingle, since they actually came up off some money, said loudly and with mocking disdain, i'm saying, ewww. and he had snot running all down his nose. the man, on his way to post up at the gas station next door, was still within earshot.

one of the poets said, so? and you're just going to say that with him standing right there?

jingle replies, so? i ain't scared of him.

the poet, continued, it's not about being scared. that man has dignity. dignity. that's some woman's child right there. the circle got quiet. then this poet, let's call them husher, says, i'm sorry. i didn't mean to be...

another poet says, but you were.

husher says, but that needed to be said. that really is a person with dignity right there.

after some little banter to break the awkwardness, we stragglers split up and i walked to my car. driving home from north philly, i thought about that exchange. i thought about how when i saw the man coming, i started to finger foldable bills to be ready to pull out a dollar for the man, but hesitated when i heard jingle say none of the rest of us had any money. somehow, jingle's word became more important in that instant than the dollar meal sandwich the man could have bought. i thought about how i knew it was going to snow and was i going to warn the man, since i figured he didn't watch the evening news with no t.v. and all. but then i hesitated. the encounter happened so fast, with him walking away, and then i felt like the opportunity for me to warn him had passed. why did i let jingle speak for all of us? why did the others let jingle speak for all of us? why did i feel ashamed when jingle essentially told the man to beg louder, but did nothing about it? we all knew what he wanted. he shouldn't have had to repeat himself. to magnify his humble position just because he was in a humble position. why did i feel ashamed when i heard the jingle of jingle's change? when i stopped fingering the dollar in my pocket? when i walked past him to my car, why did i fight off the temptation to give him that dollar and warn him about the coming snow anyway? what is wrong with me? and why would jingle's comment about the man's dirty face have gone unchallenged if not for husher's words of admonishment? why was there awkward silence after husher's words? and why was it obvious after husher spoke that husher wanted to reassure the rest of the circle, even though the snot comment, and acquiescence to it, were indeed wrong? even if he was going to buy crack or wine with the dollar and change, would that have been so bad? to help a man turn to his only comfort on a bitter, cold night? to be honest, i don't think so.

may God bless the man i am thinking about this morning. i may never see him again, but i feel like i owe him a dollar.