Why I don’t cry when my dog runs away. I don’t get angry at the bills I have to pay. I don’t get angry when my mom smokes pot. Hits the bottle and goes right to the rock.
The song across the street. Moving along the scraped up crosswalk. And strangely I recognize it. In a foreign land. In another time. This was the song of my angsty youth. And perhaps a song that I never forgot how to sing. But it wasn’t a great one, in terms of eternal wisdom, or anything like that.
But familiar. Comforting. To hear the words I’ve already dwelt with. I scanned the horizon for the source. Block buildings up to the sky against the drizzly gray background. Wandering man in a camouflage jacket, too big, too dirty. Middle aged couple walking too quickly to the next destination. A small group of enthusiastic college guys, looking for the next bar. But the song did not come from any of them. It was sung from the adjacent street, around the corner where I could not quite see.
He emerged from the corner, unexpectedly. And I immediately looked down to my own table. I don’t know what I expected, hearing that song, in the middle of a busy city. Unashamed. Uncombed hair captured in a messy man-ponytail. With too many layers of clothing, layers that didn’t make sense. Because they were not for warmth nor fashion. But layers of t-shirts, a sash of sorts, shorts under and over his sweat pants. Clearly high on something. But happy. And singing.
I knew it was a scam as soon as he walked up. Of course, it always is. A play on emotion and circumstance to get what you want. That is the way of the world, and when you believe differently you will be disappointed. But he just sang that stupid song, which immediately made me remember we are not that different.
They say, we are all one bad decision away from a lonely life on the street. I think we have all seen that decision, whether we want to admit it or not. Whether we ever knew it or not. And it seemed as if this happy soul may have made that fateful descision, one day in the past. So what else can one do, if this were another me? What else could one do? Except listen.
I am a poet. He said. I don’t know, I just have these words that rhyme sometimes. And sometimes they don’t. If you are not too busy, most people are too busy and they say, no, go away. But words come to me. And if you think it’s worth your time, I will write a poem.
This poor sucker. He didn’t know he was talking to someone who absolutely loved words. No matter where they come from. A dead guy only enduring in a forgotten book. A toddler who can’t speak other than obvious truth. A song that brings a war veteran to tears. A poem from a drug addicted sunburnt rambler.
Sure, I said.
Give me something from your heart. He said. One word. Don’t say SUV. Some people will try to give me a stupid word like that. I can’t give you that poem, because I know that’s not from your heart. I want something that you can’t solve. See, I have this gift of words. But it has to be real.
Strangely, he caught me writing, something like a poem. Words that I thought were plaguing the hearts of other people. How ironic. That an uninvited wanderer wanted to write a poem, for my own guarded and aching heart. I had many words, actually. Too many. For his purposes, anyway. But looking at my friend, who I had nothing and everything in common with, I gave him a word that I already knew we shared.
Ha. He chuckled. Wow. That’s a good one. I know plenty about that.
I smiled, turned back to my own writing, and put an air pod back into one ear. He opened a tattered yellow notebook, walked to the other end of the outdoor patio, and sat down with his pen.
I almost forgot he was there, lost in my own words, my own thoughts, my own world. But about ten minutes later he stepped up to my table, keeping a respectable distance. He cleared his throat like a nervous teenager, not quite ready to speak in public. First words shaken, and then his breath relaxed in to the rhythm. Cadence, beat, and just a few rhyming meters.
I was pessimistically waiting to hear my word “loneliness” inserted into the proper place. A cookie-cutter verse that he used on all the mini-van moms that he could find in the city. But he did not. It was a lonely poem. Informed by the ancestors. Hovered by the battles of the busy hummingbirds. From the mouth of a wondering man of the streets who happened to pass by my table, for an easy dollar.
And I shouldn’t have been impressed. With someone who had figured out how to do this for a living. But he did a great job. For a strung-out beggar on the rainy streets of an unloving city.
He tore out the page from his notebook and set it down on the edge of my table. Nodding. Conclusively.
I already knew. I had been had. I already knew he had perfected this routine so that he could eat, or drink, or whatever he needed to do to continue his days. And I was taken. But I was ok with that. I wasn’t afraid of him, and what he had to say. But he had a little more, to say… a poetic goodbye.
Hey, so, I hope that whatever it is that is on the other side of that rift, it’s coming. Just stay true.
He dropped his eyes. And left without any other bits of wisdom, or out-dated song lyrics. Yet the pessimistic side of me tore that salutation apart to make absolutely no applicable sense. Anyone could say those exact words to anyone else, and like a horoscope prediction, anyone could make it speak directly to any situation.
And there is no great lesson. I learned. From him. But it did violently remind me of the song I barely recognized. Before he ever gave me any of his own scribbled words. And after.
Fuckin’ and fightin’, its all the same
Livin’ with Louie dog’s the only way to stay sane
Let the lovin’, let the lovin’ come back to me.
Lovin’, is what I got, I said remember that.
And sometimes, you get to just receive what you need. From what you are surprisedly given. I think my friend may have already known that. And he gave me exactly what was needed.