The Panhandler

This morning I bought a cup of tea for Lionel, a guy on disability who spends his days hanging around the intersection outside my office. Lionel is a decent guy, he cannot speak after a stroke, I believe, but he is clean, polite, unassuming, and has never asked anyone for anything.

He just does not want to sit alone in a room all day, and who could blame him.

But as I left the coffee shop, another denizen of the city streets who saw my gesture accosted me for a handout and was not happy when he was rebuffed. It reminded of this piece, which is at least a year old, based on a similar kind of street rat.


Scabrous, gelded man,
offering what he cannot deliver,
begs indulgences
he does not deserve.

Rust hair, rheumy eyes,
breath that could peel paint,
he accosts and accuses,
reviles and abuses,
the personal space
of those waiting in line.

Pornographic murmurs
and lewd gestures
with the hand
not reaching for your change,
he rubs himself the right way,
and everyone else
the wrong.

Wastrel on a summer eve,
layers of filthy clothes
stacked against the need
to hold what few possessions
he has.

Salted eyes, crusted
with a million tears
for what he once was -
the apple of
someone’s eye,
he looks through you
seeing only what
he can never be.


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