Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"Man in a Parking Lot"

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.


jackmoyers said...

I almost wept the first time I heard that poem. Thank you for reminding me of it, and of the title and author (I'd forgotten both).

Anonymous said...

I cannot tell you how familiar this is. I have worked with the homeless for many years and the one thing I know - they are wonderful people but one must look beyond the tattered army coats and scrubby shoes. Now that I have my own children and can combine the experience I have with them with those I work with, it is so true ... I think of them when they were kids. I also think of the women who would bring in their children and wonder about them every day. We all deserve dignity and respect and we all can strive to find self worth and hope to share it with others.

shadle said...

you a papa these days, k?

bigshoulders said...

@ Shadle: Nosiree. How's married life? You can shoot me an email offlist if you like.