Gripped in the smell of sweat, cat food, and ruin,
handing out sandwiches under an overpass
each hand-off like a shark strike, the homeless shuffle
a variegated line discharging a sullen murmur,
attention flitting everywhere, avoiding contact
dull eyes, wide and in every human color.
Every sliding step in the queue etched
with the noise of broken glass on pavement.
The occasional thank-you is jarring.
An hour leaves me feeling like a clandestine agent
forced to do the right thing for the wrong reason.
I decide to walk back to work.
The world has gone unreasonably bright.
There is peanut butter in the webs of my fingers
but I can only smell that manufactured stink
humanity unwashed for too long
forced by circumstance to eat processed food
led by apathy to leave the empty cans and containers
on the ground or dangling from the tips of weeds.
Clouds are melting at this hour
the urban canyons offer no shelter from the raw radiance
my scalp prickles then bleeds out sweat
until I feel a plastic shroud has risen beneath my clothes
a ground sheet or a tarpaulin that would be convenient
to lash my corpse within and I see a vision of my dead self:
my skin gone gray my mouth slightly ajar
exposing my irregular bite and mossy teeth.
There are trees planted in the sidewalks.
Any branches within jumping height
are torn or broken off completely.
Leaves flutter like notepaper,
bad forgeries of alpine meadow occupants
raised on fresh rainwater and free flowing breezes.
Further uptown every corner reeks of coffee,
every other pedestrian is holding a lit cigarette.
Retail shops begin appearing in clusters
displaying bright berries of fabricated life;
clothing and electronics in a vibrant gloss.
Electric taxis prowl the curbs quiet as cats.
The air is thick with construction dust,
the past turned over in favor of a prefab future,
and a hum of urgency as if a decree has been made
that everything must be done in our lifetime.
I could walk away from it all
sell off my worldly possessions at a deep discount
try and walk the Earth growing lean, leathery
closer in substance to the homeless.
But even they live in artificial caves
some they own, some they just borrow
with a promise as trustworthy as paper money:
to follow paternal rules and nod to a paternoster
about a golden lifetime beyond this one
where hunger is hypothetical and want is unknown.