Friday, December 2, 2011

A Poem When Prose Won't Work

To Mark
A Street Person

I couldn’t help but notice his hands
They were dirty
But not like the dirty mine get after
digging garden loam or dusting the piano

This grime seemed permanent
dirt molecules bonded to skin cells
no soap could clean completely
nails ringed with black

And the smell of the street rose
from him as the warmth of the church
revealed what the cold outside camouflaged
Stale cigarette smoke mingled with oil fumes and

skin too long without warm water
I leaned in close to hear him
He kept his head turned away
shame or fear or just non-being

I don’t know which but he mumbled
his need and asked if God could help
No answers were forthcoming
but I prayed anyway

Bowing my head as I was
well taught
I couldn’t help but notice
my hands frequently washed

rings adorning both left and right
nails unpolished but with no trace of filth
Small as they have always been
These hands that were always held by stronger, bigger hands

out of protection and love and worry and hope
I couldn’t help but notice
his hands with long tapering fingers
An artist’s hands

Perhaps they could have coaxed
figures out of clay or written poetry
or moved gracefully across
the strings of a guitar

I can’t help but wonder
if someone once held his hands
like mine were held
And if that is true

Why is there a difference now?

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