Thursday, January 9, 2014

Poem: "Benediction" by Barbara Ryland

Night after frigid night he huddled there,
bedded by the blank brick wall
blinded by heaps of dirty quilts and blankets
that covered him top to bottom,
he was unseen, unseeing,
wrapped in darkness.

Only the plastic bags  
by locked wheelchair tires
held mementos of his past.
Only the rise and fall of his chest
showed signs of life.

We hastened by to get our cars,
to go to our warm homes
as we rushed from work, glancing at him.
We were on the move, yet
moved by his very rootedness, his silent need,
that we saw dimly there.

We wondered how to help.
Perhaps a gift card for coffee to give him warmth?
We’d feel better doing something-anything-

Sometimes he disappeared for a few nights
but always returned,
hulking icon of the city’s poor.

One dusk when sleet prickled its descent,
slicking the walkways
as we slipped toward the garage,
we heard a voice calling:
“Be careful on your way home!
Don’t get hurt!
The roads are slippery you know!”

There he sat by the blank wall,
head unmasked,
soiled quilts and blankets draped
like vestments around his torso.
His face shone.
“Be careful driving home,” he cautioned.
“don’t get hurt.”

Moved as he was seeing our plight,
his words wove warmth
into the recesses of our hearts;
sleet shifted to snow.
We stepped over the softened street
toward his outstretched arm.