The Red Line

He begged, pleaded to the packed

“L” train for anything anyone

could give to help him buy

the antibiotics he needed

for an infected leg he pulled

up his pants to reveal, but no one

looked at him or the wound

save me. All seemed steeled,

numbed by his humble confession

and grotesquely swollen limb,

like it was just another ruse or

plea they couldn’t afford or decode.

Twenty-two bucks was all he needed.

His posture, the exhausted expression

in his voice and eyes apologized

for having to ask this way,

play the beggar to others barely

paying their fares, but he didn’t know

where else to turn or what to do.


He dropped his head and said

he understood why they couldn’t,

wouldn’t help or acknowledge him.

He knew they were conned for cash

every day, but still he had to ask

because he had nothing to lose

but his leg—his pride gone

miles ago. The commuters

were used to this scene

I hadn’t witnessed before,

a street theater performance surely

worthy of a fifty dollar seat

in some balcony of fine art uptown.

A country bumpkin, I was sold—

but warned off by my sons

and the silence of those around me.


The beggar finally moved on

to the next car, left us suffering

another crisis of conscience,

a daily practice navigating this sea

of humanity, adrift in one’s own

devices, bodies floating by

face down. We keep on moving,

working, scrolling along @


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