The poetic city: “A Simple Thank You  12/18/16”

An unknown man (photo by: Alexander Bird)

A Simple Thank You
On my way Uptown after dancing all  
afternoon on Frenchman, I take Esplanade 
to bypass the interstate and avoid running 
the gauntlet of unsavory intersections 
along Claiborne. 
I pull up to the red light under the overpass
where sits an old beggar in the middle 
of the neutral ground on a milk crate 
cushioned by newspapers and 
surrounded by the paraphernalia 
of the homeless. 
Since the lanes have narrowed from two
to one and there are no cars ahead of me,
I have no choice but to come to a stop right
beside him and the sign advertising his plight..
I ease my car just beyond his line of sight 
so that I can evade eye contact;
but I can’t pretend he’s not there. 
I don’t really want to yield to his need. 
I tell myself that there are so many 
like him and so many reasons for 
not giving on the street. 
So, when he glances in my direction, I look the
other way until he turns his attention elsewhere, 
appearing not to care about the state of my soul 
or whether I intend to do anything about 
his predicament. 
The absence of a direct encounter 
creates a void that frees me to reconsider
his situation and my own.
Then, without the pressure to act in one way 
or another, the differences between us 
seem to drop away.  
And, before the light can change, I hurry to 
pull a bill from my wallet. I know it won’t 
be enough to buy much, but I feel compelled 
to reach out and connect in some way. 
I open my window, hold out a five, 
and say, “May I offer this to you?”  
He turns back to me and takes the bill with two fingers,
careful not to touch my hand, as if to protect me 
from the taint of the street. Then he offers me 
a simple “thank you” just as the light changes. 
Later I find myself wishing it had been a twenty.


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