Tony Iovino is the founder and host of the acclaimed Summer Gazebo Reading Series in Oceanside, NY, now in it’s 11th season. He is the author of the novel Notary Public Enemy (Diversion Press, 2011) and numerous published poems and essays.
And it’s a sweltering late afternoon Shimmering waves pulsing off concrete Even as the sun starts to flee From what it has wrought on this southern city that’s Not my home, Not my turf, And I head to the corner Gonna turn left, then right, and get back into the conditioned air, Peel off this shirt that clings, The miracle fiber failing to wick away my body’s soggy attempt to cool itself And he’s there. He was passing me Hands on a walker, but he’s stopped and turned And he’s here. Right here. And he says Help me, I got nuthin’. And time stops as I assess He’s not a threat. He’s old and bent and weak-thin, Body-abused-thin, Cheap-whiskey thin. He’s no threat to my body. Older though I’ve gotten There’s still strength in these arms And muscle-memory of youthful fights. He’s no thug, no skin head, no beered-up younger version of me. And time is still frozen on this blistering sidewalk, Is he a scam artist, a con, a grifter Diverting my attention so my pocket can be picked? Is this an act? Will he toss the walker And Ussein Bolt it down the street, My wallet clutched in that withered hand? No, no, He’s no threat to body or purse. Still, no please was uttered, no supplication. A demand. Help me. I got nuthin’ And you. Look at you, his eyes accuse You, you got a lot, I can see it We both know it Yeah, well, I earned every bit of it, I silently rail I worked for it I didn’t put it up my arm or Waste it on slow horses Or cheap gin or a crack pipe. I studied when I could have partied Worked when I could have partied Stayed late at the office when I could have partied. And time remains anchored Not a second has ticked And I flash on the warnings Don’t give to the street peddlers It can ruin a neighborhood They can ruin a neighborhood This isn’t a made-for-TV tearjerker Or a liberal nirvana Street people too often are sick Too often dangerous Too often a threat Give and you’re part of the problem But I hear Jesus and I hear Buddha and I even hear my softer self reproach me And my guilt rises and My anger flashes at this decrepit old man Demanding, not begging, Feeding my guilt Playing my guilt And time stays rooted And I reach into my pocket And I thrust thin paper into his bony hand. He’s not a threat, Except to my sleep tonight. I thrust green faces at him Solving nothing Changing nothing But cheaper than ambien And we each walk on.