Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Panhandler

So many times I observed the panhandler, slouching in the various
haunts of city scapes.
So many times I mistook him for his own shadow or a trick of light
that only suggested the presence of a man.

When I managed a sustained look,
I could never quite discern his face, obscured as it was beneath
tattered scarves or cumbersome collars.
His eyes only partially visible peered at me with a mix of
pleading, curiosity, judgment, resentment or tremulous

As I came near he'd stretch out his hand, clothed in a glove of
funereal grey.
I in turn responded with the pitch of a coin, a crumpled bill or a
spare cigarette and though I couldn't make out his face I had no
pressing desire to.
A plethora of faces we're waiting to greet me from future throngs.
Surely they would be more memorable.
Why bother with his, I thought.

Often he'd beckon with the other hand or mumble a comment
incoherent to ears that scarcely cared to listen, let alone
What was he, after all, but a pitiful study in human refuse, void
of future and if ever imbued with a promising past, it had long
since dissolved into the soot and debris that clung to his
world-weary shoes.

I never feared the panhandler as those much wiser might have done.
Indeed, I grew to anticipate his presence with mundane familiarity.
How above and beyond him his pathetic visage made me feel as I
vaulted into youthful excursions, flights and misadventures.

In so doing, at the dawn of my journeys, I paid him no more
meaningful thought than I would to a tree stump next to a roadside
diner or an off ramp to nowhere that served as a cursory

He didn't remain confined to doorways, benches or subway stalls, as one might expect.
He was there mingling with the Sherpas while I prepared to scale
imagined mountains or whispering from the depths of cargo holds as
I sailed fantastic seas , or even stirring among the unexplored
vistas of distant planets as I drifted across a thousand galaxies.

No, I could not see his face but I took a strange comfort in his
constant form.
It wasn't until I came to know my own hints of exhaustion, of long
postponed summations, of introspections taxed, recriminations
begging for redress, admonitions pleading for repentance that I
came to contemplate him more and more and approach him from a distance with increasing dread.

His gloved hand became a chill reminder of a thirst unquenched,
torches unlit, beds unmade, pages of a diary left yellowed and
blank, chances at love left strewn on summer doorsteps or
squandered in torrid one nighters, prayers never offered, atonements unacknowledged and pathways to grace that I chose to forego.
All reckoning with these came back to me in dim silhouettes
scrawled in the dust of his palm.

Now, when I return to the labyrinth of city blocks where first I
encountered him, I do so with a yearning mea culpa.
I hear his pleading voice with crisp and painful clarity.
He turns to face me from one more doorway.
He lowers the tattered scarf and collar.
I see his features in pitiless sun or glowing moonlight and at
last, at last they become familiar.

The face of the my own. 

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