by Catherine Jagoe, from Casting Off
When you have a son
you start seeing men
backwards, intuiting their childhood
selves beneath the years of accretions—
the bags and jowls, paunches,
thickened, crumpled skin,
the whole weight of the individual
personality, its freight of filters,
opinions, prejudices, habits,
likes, congealed—as if you knew them
before they even knew themselves.
So when a man stumbles toward you,
mumbling, across the Cubb's Foods parking lot,
unkempt and coatless in the snow,
and your discriminating mind says
"madman," "danger," though he never
once looks up, locked in an altered world,
fixed, unfixable, you lock your car door and then
sit there wondering how it happened,
when things started going wrong.
Knowing he was once a toddler—
for pity's sake—you find it
strange, unreal, this mane of wild
grey hair, grey beard. Somehow
you know it doesn't belong on him,
all that hair, and you don't know
how he got to be so lost, so sick, so old.
I often frequent the excellent website: Writers' Almanac hosted by Garrison Keillor. This poem brought to my mind the man I know that is at this moment, thumbing his way across the US.
I wonder if there are folks out there who have a similar reaction to his presence?
Over the weekend, I saw a weary traveler by the road who was raving at an invisible entity, and it was sad and disturbing at the same time. He wasn't hitching — as he was walking against traffic — but I had the feeling he was on the same proverbial road that Shawn is traveling on right now — a road where people pass judgment in the blink of an eye.