Anthony W. Pahl

WITNESS…

He was sitting on the sidewalk with his back against the wall;
his legs were drawn up underneath his chin.
Hands hidden in his pockets; he had a beanie on his head
Old sneakers on his feet pointed to an empty tin.

A tattered scarf of dirty cloth was wrapped around his neck,
a filthy greatcoat hung in folds upon his back;
An unlit stub from an old cigar dangled from his mouth,
and cardboard formed a mattress where he sat.

His vacant eyes couldn’t focus closer than a thousand yards
and the stench of unwashed decay surrounded him.
But that smell was not as vile as the stench of hopeless fate
epitomised and solemnised by that empty rusty tin.

He shook as with a fever and seemed to implode in to himself
when a well dressed man detoured wide around his form.
His rheumy eyes turned inwards as he bared his broken teeth
to voice a silent scream at that man’s inhuman scorn.

A brace of dull and rusty metal held with strings of coloured cloth
adorned his Army great-coat above his left breast.
His woollen gloved right hand moved from the pocket of the coat;
with a stream of tears he placed his hand upon his chest.

He sighed and put the empty tin in the pocket of his coat
and folded his cardboard mattress in a square;
He used the wall for balance and struggled slowly to his feet
to shuffle slowly to someplace else out there.

He stopped… and turned around, and without a single sound
came proudly to attention and gave a grand salute.
His tear-filled eyes glazed over and his broken heart was stilled;
he fell still at attention, the matter of his pain now moot.

And when they had taken him away, I stood where he had sat
to ponder how and why he’d been so placed.
But even when I walked away and turned where he had turned,
I couldn’t see the granite Wall that he had faced.