INTRODUCTION TO HOMELESSNESS
_____“The point is that fashion is the armour to survive the reality of everyday life.”
_________________________________________– Bill Cunningham
Bare feet in old running shoes, a tattered cape
made of shopping bags skilfully knotted together
so they overlap like shingles on a roof or oily feathers.
Were you a tailor or sailmaker in another life? And where
is my camera? Your doom chic might make the cover
of an un-airbrushed, alt Vogue. Worn by a skin-and-bones
blonde on a runway in Milan, it’d be, like, ooh la-effing-la.
“Dashiell, it’s not polite to point,” but the boy’s compassion
has not yet ossified. He won’t be deterred. A minute ago,
they were snapping selfies with the NYPL lions as backdrop;
now the boy tugs at his father’s coat sleeve, “Dad, can I
have some money, please, for that man over there?”
Dad looks irritated, giving you a cool once-over, as if to say,
“I think you can be safely ignored,” but then, with a slight
smug smile, his face softens: he’s taught his kid right.
He shrugs and fishes for his wallet, checking the crisp bill
twice to make sure it’s only a single. “Well, go on then,
hurry up, I’ll be right here.” The boy approaches warily,
only to have his offering politely refused. And now
the man is really annoyed; his son’s return is like the long walk
back to the bench after striking out. What’s this guy’s problem?
How dare he zombie-shuffle through their father-son vignette
and take the shine off a perfectly good day. “Hey, Asshole,
you don’t like money?” You merely smile and bow,
makeshift cloak crackling in the cold.
Up the beach from the supper club’s sprawling
patio where beleaguered servers thread the crowd,
bearing trays of watered-down Cuba Libres,
grilled mahi-mahi on skewers, near the striped
changing huts and sea kayaks on steel racks,
two men pace figure-eights in the sand, their faces
lit by cellphone screens. One sports a loud
shirt and a fresh sunburn, the other, darker
skinned, wears a once-white apron and hairnet.
They circle, pivoting on sandaled heels.
It’s a kind of wary dance, the boundaries
invisible, yet mutually agreed. The elusive green
bars were here yesterday. There’s always something
that can’t wait: a friend’s birthday, a baby overdue,
someone in a nursing home, a child to wish goodnight
before the sitter switches out the light; niggles, logistics,
some little piece of news. The odd couple
commiserates silently – the one who chafes
at his leisure, the other on a smoke break.
What they have to say won’t stay bottled up;
what they want to hear is the one thing
that will permit them sleep. But the satellites
won’t cooperate: the night air carries
only the surf’s white noise, merengue
from the resort casino on the next point.
It’s an old story: figures on a far shore,
hands raised to the sky, searching for a signal.
Two tiny lights like fireflies engulfed by dark
inhuman scenery. The drone of scouring waves,
the moon stirring the iron filings of the sea.
Steve McOrmond has published three collections of poetry, most recently The Good News about Armageddon (Brick Books, 2010). His second collection, Primer on the Hereafter (Wolsak and Wynn, 2006), received the Atlantic Poetry Prize. He lives in Toronto. He can be found at www.stevemcormond.com or @Steve_McOrmond on Twitter.
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