Every Tuesday and Thursday we meet at your house.
I stop by your office on the median strip
Just off Route 1.
I guess you can say you work from home.
It’s the same routine:
I return from my work as yours ramps up.
The cash in my pocket is what you need
Because your wet and well-worn cardboard sign spells out in bleary, block letters:
“Homeless. Please help.”
We are regulated by that stop light,
You and I.
Its contrary 6 minutes
Hold both of us captive in hope and dread.
At red, we both stop what we are doing.
You begin your sojourn, hoping
That the light is long (red…),
While I cross my fingers
That it’s miraculously short (green…).
We see each other but are careful not to look.
You begin your paces, wind-up toy moving
Back and forth on your narrow, muddy strip
Bereft of grass, footprints traced by
Soiled, thick-soled sneakers.
Again we both refuse to blink
In our stare down dance.
Your eyes averted in hopeful pleading past my side window,
Mine praying that this is not the night you’ve
We stare ahead, failing to acknowledge
That there are souls involved.
Nothing to see here.
With each shuffle along the curb,
I feel your hope bleed out while mine inflates.
Laboriously leaking air, turning flat.
You reach your cement limit, pivot,
And trudge, deflated, back towards your light,
Your home base.
One night, when it was very cold and
So dark that even the arched parking lot lights
From state buildings held no effect,
I saw you caressing something wrapped in a bundle,
A papoose of sorts that made me think it was a baby,
Forcing me to finally look at you directly
To see that it was your dog snugly
Tucked under your arm.
And from your light, I weep my way home,
Encamped upon my own cement strip,
Bawling like an infant under my own lonely stop light.
Kathleen Blake was a classroom English teacher for more than 25 years in Princeton and in the surrounding areas. She has been a full-time tutor for the 16 and enjoys teaching and writing immensely.