“Happy Chains”© J.A. Carter-Winward photography

i was taking photos of an old door.
i like things that are old,
dilapidated, falling apart.

so i stood snapping away
and i didn’t see him.

a guy with ragged clothes and no teeth,
waiting for me to finish
even though he’d been walking,
probably all day,
in the freezing january rain
while i drove around in heated comfort
scouting my next photo op.

i was a little startled — 
he came out of nowhere for me.

i said thanks since he’d let me finish shooting,
and he started walking again.
he told me he was washing windows

“Washing Away” © J.A. Carter-Winward photography

and that’s when i saw
the glass cleaner hanging on his belt.

i asked him
if i could take his picture.

he said i could.
his face was beautiful.
weathered, lined
deeply etched sorrow and humanity.

a map of a life.

it dawned on me too late
that he needed to wash my windows.
he needed anything i could give him.

i cursed my stupidity as he rounded the corner
and disappeared.
i ran to my car and grabbed all i had,
a twenty-dollar bill,
and i put my camera away, started my jeep
and flipped around to follow him.

i drove up and down back streets,
looking for that guy.

that fucking guy, who let me snap a photo
of him, knowing full well had he been
some cpa in a business suit
i would have never asked.

i wanted to explain
why i took his photo.
i wanted to give him that twenty.


i wanted to do something for him.

i never found him.
i went up and down side streets and
around blocks,
but he was gone.

i cried all the way home,
silently cursing myself,
wondering if i should have spent more time looking,
wishing i had just given him the twenty right then,
while i had a chance —

you know, had forgotten for one fucking second
about the world i was in,
locked in the safety of 3-squares 
and a roof over my head…

forgotten my bonds of comfort and said,

hey, hold up, i’ve got something for you.
no, no, please. 
don’t bother cleaning my windshield,

you look tired, and
it’s a freezing rain.

— j.a. carter-winward