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Were things better when I knew the beggar?

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Tonight there is a curse in the street
between the two asphalt paths of shine.
Why harm this fetid outcast, this bum
even if he is not sorry for his kind?
I pass the synagogue stoop with pity
and drop a coin in his paper cup.

Were there ghosts to watch me, then I’d refill the cup
everyday, clear and sacred, and kiss the street
because we tread on it with the very same pity
that precludes the sun and the bum of their shine.
But do not send for the homeless! They are not our kind
of man, each rotting asunder as a bum.

But what galvanizes this young charity bum?
What has stirred him to such frothiness from the cup
of jingling pennies, nickels, and trinkets of that kind?
He hits the whiskey in the wide open street
and he stares back with his gaping mouth to shine
as a ghoul or a predator, frightened by pity.

I pass him on the street every evening with villainous pity
as though I could make eye contact with a bum
and elucidate his soul with some emanating shine.
But he rests his chin upon his neck and jingles the cup
of coins, ignoring me. They all spill on the fiery street
and I bend over and pick one up for him—to be kind.

Here you go sir I said helplessly, as if I were some kind
of good-deed-doer and not filled with the same pity
that I wear over my jacket every night on the quiet street.
Yesterday, he told me his name is Timbuktu and that I’m the real bum.
He likes to chant obscenities and do the Charleston with a full cup
of rapture and Jesus and Charlie Chaplin and sun shine.

Though maybe it is not my right to deny him his shine
if I am of that same form and of that same kind.
I spilt all over my shirt, the coffee from my cup
and Timbuktu chuckles for the first time with pity.
And I thought he was a madhouse bum!
I thought he spent his days peeing in the street.

Tonight’s curse is a cup of homeless pity
and exploits which took the shine from his kind.
But I still avoid the bum who sleeps in the street.



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