On my hurried way to where I’d left something
that mattered to me,
I passed him by—didn’t look him in the eye—
as he sat huddled in a rumpled blanket
with the gray of sky and river above and below him,
hand-lettered box and a sign around his neck
announcing that this bridge is not his home.
On the way back, remembering something
someone had said about homeless strangers,
I asked him if he had already eaten lunch
and offered him the whole half of a Reuben sandwich
too big for me to eat at the pub an hour earlier.
He took it and I asked if I could sit down beside him.
He offered me his crate but I took the concrete,
figuring the world had already taken enough from him
and yet still left me plenty more than what I needed.
He talked about places he’d seen, jail and Moline,
thought Kentucky and Kansas were the same state
and said he hadn’t had a corned beef sandwich
in… twenty years.
We agreed that there are all kinds of people in the world—
some who are pretty good and some who aren’t
and one who had killed his brother years ago—
“Just killed him and left him lying there in the street—”
and how after that his sister had moved to Michigan.
“My mom and dad moved up there to be with her and her kids
and left me here… I ain’t even got a cousin living here no more.”
He shook his head slowly side to side as if still not quite able
to get his mind around that one.
And we agreed, again, that a big city can feel mighty lonely
when you don’t have any kinfolk around.
And maybe even if you do.
I sat there, in my best jeans, linen shirt and sport coat,
watching people walk around us as if we both had leprosy
and it might be contagious through visual contact,
pretty much exactly the way I’d walked by twenty minutes earlier.
It wasn’t much of a lunch, I know,
and not enough conversation
to make a change in his life or anything else
but at least for once he could leave that bridge in Chicago
and know that at least one person in the world
who didn’t know him from Jesus
had sat down beside him for a little while
Sometimes that’s enough
to make a whole day seem better.