Late Night, Piccadilly

I am unsure where it came from. At the age of 9 or 10 I saw a man in a wheelchair, dribbling saliva, and yet somehow managing to move along in his chair. I remember running to a wall and burying my face to cry. So many times this happened, and then I grew up and these feelings were, for a while, overwritten by my own pain. At some point I learned to name this yearning, aching feeling in my heart. Empathy, compassion, warmth, love.

Despite the temptation to grow a crust, to harden my heart (and yes at times it has been tempting!), I have tried not to lose that genuine, aching feeling that comes from somewhere deep within. You don’t have to go far to see suffering, perhaps especially in a city. So many people and so many connections – and so many disconnections. It breaks my heart to see the downtrodden and broken souls that parade the streets, whether those that shiver in the shadows, or those that wear their loss and suffering on their well coated sleeves.

This poem arose from such feelings, one Friday night, as I paused to speak with one of my “regulars”, a person I know by name who lives on the street, who is a human being, and yet often treated as if they are no more than garbage. This poem is for David.

Late Night, Piccadilly.

Squashed, crumpled trash.
Wet, smelly, filthy. Disgusting.
Human. Shivering in the gutter.
Loveless and hopeless and afraid.

Once there was a birthday cake,
a kind word, or perhaps just hate
hammered into a heart’s innocent beat.
Something about him pulls me in,

I hold his tattooed hand,
eyes intersecting across worlds
of love and lack, craving
and refusing to release tears, just yet.

And yet, his eyes, his hand,
the beauty in this broken man;
the tenderness and loss that
ripple through divided selves.

Then, feet stream to the beat of sirens;
the fortunate chow down on life,
their fancy clothes, expensive shoes,
obliterating and refusing love.

Billboards stream a neon dream –
lip gloss, luggage and laughter
filter through rain
in the flickering parade

of people revelling past the gutter –
human and inhuman shapes
mirrored in puddles and windows.
Loveless and hopeless and afraid.

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