evidence of things not seen
©Brian Miller, 2014
Used with Permission
the world is a watch with dead batteries
or unwound @ 2:30 am
except a dumpster cat
pawing an empty glass bottle
in tinkling circles
loading dock concrete chaps the back
of my legs /// a car occasionally hums by
its engine giving it up well in advance,
enough to shut
so i don’t lose the 6000 stars
shivering in the dark
each breath solidifies slow enough
not to fall but settle to the asphalt
(capital-T)They are close enough
all the hairs on my body reach
as far as they can
until the second hand
begins to move again,
somewhere in the shadows
to my right.
I’m aware that Brian had another image in mind when he posted this poem, but, for me, it spoke of the homeless—as did the first poem he wrote for the dVerse Poetics theme of The Invisible Man. It seems that homelessness has been screaming at me lately for a couple of reasons: it plays a significant role in my 2nd novel. A homeless man, a homeless shelter are right at the center of the storyline.
And then, couple of days ago, when I went to pick up my laptop from the computer hospital there was a homeless man seated at the door of Staples™. Dressed in camouflage, shielded by an olive-green baseball cap and his bedroll in a shopping basket, I expected his request for money, but it didn’t come. I went in, retrieved my “baby” from the tech-doctor and exited the store, still waiting for him to speak. When he didn’t, I did.
I asked if he could use some cash. He stood, and said he would be so grateful. I handed him what I could and he extended his calloused hand. I found myself looking into eyes that met mine with clarity and grace. We chatted a while. I was tempted to, but didn’t ask him the source of his troubles. Being a fiction writer, I invented the backstory, assuming Jim was a Vet, dealing with PTSD, the tragic outcome of seeing too much ugliness in the line of duty. Before I left him, he invited me to a church service on Sunday, in a small storefront behind a nearby McDonalds.
I felt guilt (that comes easy to me given my background) cradling my nice laptop to my chest, knowing that I have (not everything I’d like to have, but) a lot. I felt humbled…that happens sometimes when I meet someone who emanates a certain something I’m unable to name. I felt called to learn more about, to do more for these men and women who have such struggles in life.
Too often, you hear that homelessness is the fault of the person involved. Is it their fault that they were downsized from their jobs, that they offered to put their lives on the line—to be sent into conflict? Even if drugs or alcohol or other unfortunate choices contributed to their situation, wouldn’t it be better to help instead of blame?
True. It could be that the cash I give won’t be used for food—but that’s not up to me. It’s their choice. (I once heard the poor defined as someone who is unable to make a choice.)
I think of Mother Theresa. I don’t remember the exact quote, but someone asked her how she really expected to make a difference in tackling the issue of poverty. Her answer was something along the line of “One person at a time.”
From now on, when I meet someone who is homeless, if possible, I would like to stop and talk, to really look into their eyes, to speak to and, no doubt, learn from them. In the meantime, I want to use the pen (or keyboard) as a sword and, if nothing else, remind myself and others of the problem, realizing it could someday be me.
By the way, Brian’s poem refers to a break he took during an elementary school read-a-thon. We never know where our poetry may take another. Thanks, Brian.
Thank you for this heartfelt post…
Thank you for sharing the story. I can just see him standing to accept the money and speak with you, dignity restored by your matter-of-fact kindness and lack of condescension.
I enjoyed your post today, Victoria. I like the reminder that it is not our responsibility to make other people’s choices as to what they do with the money given. And so true we never know when any one of us will be one who is down on his/her luck and would appreciate such caring generosity.
smiles…thanks for the honor…
the way i have always figured it, i was one step from homeless at least once in my life and it could happen again…they are people, they have stories…if you take the time to hear it…if you are researching i suggest ‘under the overpass’ for a particular perspective vic….i serve in quite a few kitchens and shelters…and used to eat lunch with the homeless in baltimore…
Inspiration comes in many forms. When you write what your passionate about it shows. I love that you took the time to stop and engage with this guy. I’m sure that seeing and talking to him meant a lot.
That’s so lovely, good on you 🙂