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The Number Three Train at Chambers St. Station

He is tall and fat and smells bad.
Around his neck hangs a hand-lettered
cardboard sign printed in black magic-marker.

It reads: “Homeless. Please Help. Give WHAT you CAN.”

The man lumbers through the crowded subway car
and shakes a plastic cup in the faces of the people
in the orange plastic seats.

His feet are bare. They are hugely swollen and cracked
and turning black in some places, white in others. He shouts.
He mumbles his shouts so that you hear only the noise
of his pain but not the words.

He is a bear, I think. A terrible, wounded bear.

His stench is awful and people turn their heads,
waving their hands in front of their faces, grimacing.
No one gives him anything. We won’t meet his eyes.
I certainly don’t. The money in my pocket burns.
My face burns.

I want him to leave, to leave this train and to leave
us alone. I don’t want my daughter to be seeing this.
She is uncomfortable, too. We are all

We are all uncomfortable.

He shakes his cup and mumbles in his blank pain and
when the train stops and the doors open we step off the train and
the doors shut and the train lurches forward and takes him
into the dark.

The train shrieks and the earth trembles underfoot.
When we climb the stairs to the street,
we hold our hands over our faces. Accustomed to the dark,
we find the light unbearable.