It’s cold outside,
But here he sits with downcast face and upturned mind.
Get a job, you think as you hurry by,
Hands stuffed in pockets, warm,
Avoiding his pleading eyes.
He was you once, you know, flush with a payday’s glow,
But he got a divorce and took a drink.
Now he lives in the snow, the bus station, or the Burger King.
Anywhere he can go to escape the cold,
To escape his mind,
To escape your pity.
He doesn’t want your pity. He wants your money.
Money is help, release, food, drink, clothes, and shelter.
Remember that next time you smugly press your thirty-eight cents
Into his palm and smile at him as if you were patting a dog,
Because your money is what he wants,
But your love is what he needs if he is ever going to get home again.
You wouldn’t understand, because you’ve always had
A home, secure against fear, hunger, and want.
Money can buy you shelter, but only love can make a home.
Without it he’s condemned
To roam from box to box, no end
In sight, his life a welter of tearful frustration
Day and night, night and day.
So when the dirty smelly man at the corner asks you for a dollar,
Give it to him,
And add a human touch. Say a word, offer him the hope it will stop.
Sometimes all it takes is a smile, a cup of coffee, a newspaper.
Do it because you can, and acknowledge him.
Alas, poor man. I knew him. He was me once.
By Michael Madill
I write the blog Vegan Pluck, about veganism and its food and politics, here http://veganpluck.com/blog.html. I was educated at London University and the University of Michigan, and I live in Chicago with my family.