The Spare Change of Despair in the Slow Crawl of Night


In darkness the scent of french fries

Follows me along the frontage road.

Plastic bags cling to a cyclone fence.

Cars speed by, drivers indifferent

To my brothers in the shadows patrolling

Their few feet of privacy.

No eye contact until I step into the cheap cologne mist

Outside a 24 Hour Fitness

Where people watch themselves

In large glass windows

Lit by overhanging pale vapor lights.

I pass unnoticed, reaching

An alleyway behind a bus station

With the fallen ashes from men

Lining the brick wall.

I shall not want

Yells some unseen

Part of the building.

At the corner I curse a digital bank clock–

Four hours until daylight.

With no place to sleep.

Need a three-hour coffee,

So I put 76 cents on a sticky table.

The waitress with blackened eyes

Towers over me

As she pours muddy liquid

Into a cup with a chipped rim.

 She looks fuzzy and

Her hate keeps pushing my head down.

She sweeps away the coins

In disgust I imagine.

Later, someone grabs my arm

And says I have to leave

The empty cup.

I strain to raise my head,

Unable to speak,

A child again waiting

To be lifted up.

Outside amid the smell of urine,

I stumble, scraping my shoulder against

A rough surface.

A door opens.

The dull light inside fades slowly,

Leaving only the smell of bleach.

It takes a moment

For the door to close

And the fumes to burn my nostrils–

The spare change of despair

In the slow crawl of night

(Somewhere on Pico, 1977)

          —

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