poem, art, photo by Elizabeth


beneath surgery-bright restaurant lights was the unspoken 
collusion of employees and patrons to ignore the bone-defined 
man as he tapped thin-paned glass to beg for food.

He shoved skeletal hands toward his gaping mouth as if to fill the gnawing 
we could not imagine while digesting pasta and merlot rather than 
our muscles to survive as this man’s body had, his hollowed face 
pled as he mimed across the chasm of language, culture, class. 

After the waiter returned our leftovers, snug in Styrofoam, 
I took them across the restaurant, my legs heavy beneath 
reproach’s hypnotic weight from those unwilling to squander 
etiquette’s rules that insure our warmth while others freeze.

Through my breath outside, I saw him accept a dollar from two 
spike-heeled women as they scuttled from a bar across the street,
yet money’s a tool for future trade, no immediate relief for a churning gut. 

Drunk with hunger, he wavered in the crosswalk till a horn startled him
to the curb. Waving, I caught his eye, offered the bright box. Our eyes 
locked yet he wouldn’t move, suspended in a code more compelling than 
starvation, a code older than the south and dangerous as asphyxiation. 

Cloaked in privilege, I left our paltry leftovers on the bus stop bench 
and returned to the interior’s glare, each of us visible through glass walls. 
He sprinted across the street, gulped what would have been tomorrow’s lunch, threw away the box, and returned to the window beside us. 

He smiled, waved, tried to thank me, but I saw him only peripherally, 
embarrassed to accept gratitude for so little before he walked away.

Thank you to the editors of decomp magazine who first published this poem.

By Elizabeth


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