What Surprised Me Most

What Surprised Me Most

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

pleading 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 rules of etiquette

that weave the fabric that insures our warmth as others freeze.

Once outside I saw him, through my breath, accept a dollar from

two spike-heeled women as they scuttled from a restaurant across the street,

yet money’s a tool for future trade, no immediate relief for the churning gut.

Drunk with hunger, he wavered in the crosswalk till a horn startled him

back 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

hunger’s desperation, a code older than the south and dangerous as asphyxiation.

Cloaked in privilege, I left our paltry leftovers on the metal bus stop bench

and returned to the restaurant’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.

decomP

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