“The Unfortunates”

Click here to listen to Cate Marvin read this poem.

occupy the corners where cars spill off
highways, work the vehicles halted before
traffic lights, heft limbs that look screwed
on wrong, hang juice cartons fashioned into
receptacles for change from their necks with
shoestrings, peer into windows to find our
eyes with looks like keys trying out locks
for the right fit. Stopped, one eye restless
on the light’s red, the other transfixed by
a leg grown so wrong we twist inwardly at
the approach of it, we wary of their intent to
snatch our pity like a purse. When they
bend to the glass, we clutch our sympathies,
close the face like a door. But they are not
thieves, they work for this: it is their job to
stagger around on sticks. Trading on woeful
expression, exchanging pities for pennies,
shaming us with their disfigurements: I will
not give them a cent.
                             Nights I hand myself
over to the dull roar of the city’s motor, lie
like an amputee and count my ghost limbs,
eyelids clamped tight against a streetlight’s
dampening flicker. The floorboards vibrate
with a neighbor’s obscenities, malice moves
like mice in the walls, and to sleep is to live
inside an hour with jeweled beasts, the heart
thinking itself some priceless rock briefly
released from the dark safety of its locked
cabinet. But in sleep nothing is noble, our
streets of mind crowded with vendors whose
stalls are stacked with misfortunes arranged
neatly as produce. Those hours we haggle,
wondering when the sincerity of sky’s blue
will arrive, how come nobody’s bothered to
repair the loose latch on the front gate, and
what kinds of eyes melancholy lovers have.