I spent hours in the evenings walking the streets of Philadelphia while there on business. Around City Hall and the Masonic Temple, both architectural masterpieces. Along Benjamin Franklin Boulevard toward the Museum of Art, with its steps made famous by Rocky Balboa. On the banks of the dirty Schuykill River. By the famous LOVE sculpture. Down Walnut, Chestnut, and Market Streets in the historic quarter. In many places I saw homeless people, in desperate condition, sleeping mid-day in parks wrapped in dirty sleeping bags and blankets, crouched in cardboard shelters under the South Street bridge. One wizened man with wild beard and hair squatted with his back against a Wachovia bank wall, holding out his empty coffee cup for coins, staring blankly at the multitudinous passing feet, but seeing nothing. In my hotel, haunted by these images, I wrote this poem.
Only the cup and knee-knobs
of crossed legs showed themselves
to the thousands of preoccupied pedestrians.
He sat tucked tidily
into a Wachovia wall,
out of the way.
The cardboard cup held 3 pennies
and a ring of dried coffee stain.
“It’s cold today,” I said and stopped,
68 smug cents now
in the cup of the blue-capped man.
His gap-tooth smile jumped from a thick grey beard,
and two clear eyes saw into mine:
Thank you. Yes,
it is a cold day.