09 October, 2013

A Poem for Homeless Bruce

The Slug

“Obese beast that you are,” they shout,
”Plump with rolls and folds and colonies galore,
Why not rise up and undulate
Elsewhere — go find another garden
Where your lolling is less seen?” But you
And I know the truth:

You do funny seated sidewalk-dances
In lieu of hefting the weight you carry, those years
Of admonition, scorn, and, let us not deny it,
Mockery, which comes without end from pedestrians
As you sit surrounded by wilting flowers
($5 each, reads your cardboard sign)
On the cracks of street corners from here to
Wherever; and that,

Wearing those bursting-at-the-buttons fireman’s pants
And that stretched-translucent T-shirt, you’ll never find,
In this secular world, a sympathetic Eden
Where you might fully escape God’s
Crass laws of gravity and time. Nor those of grief.

So fill your layabout days with roses
As literally as you care.
May their satin-red petals, soft and cool,
Be the necessary buffer against life’s salinity,
Heaping, heaping at everyone’s feet.

* * * * *

A Kansas City fixture, in the latter half of the ’90s, Homeless Bruce settled outside nightclubs, bookstores, coffeeshops, and anywhere else he might sell a few long-stemmed roses to well-heeled passersby. His signature pitch: “’Scuse me, sir. Buy a rose for the pretty lady?” Bruce did brisk business on Saturday nights, propped up against the wall of Harry’s Bar & Tables, but the attention he attracted from drunken partiers was a high price. Shamefully, a friend of mine once offered him a glazed donut if he could stand and do ten jumping jacks — a horrible piece of mockery that, a decade later, still weighed on me enough to write this poem.

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