It’s the way everyone is walking around
with so much grace, knowing they are going to die.
There’s a factory worker in Toledo
who turns off his heat in December
because work shut down for a week
and so he strikes the devil’s bargain
of it’s warm inside the apartment
or gas-station hamburgers yard beer
it’s how he saves all his aluminum empties
and puts them on the curb with a cardboard sign
that says cans for redemption: return sign to porch
and when he comes back from buying
another Natty Daddy to warm him in the night
the cans are gone and the sign
is propped up on his door.
There’s an old man in a train station in Kansas City
who doesn’t flinch at a four hour delay and says
we’re waiting here or we’re waiting somewhere else
and he and I dive into each other’s lives
without wasting time on small talk
so we start on politics with religion
and within an eyeblink we’re in real deep
about how my grandfather dying
left me all alone
and how his mother dying
made him man of the house
when he was only ten years old
and how neither of us knew how to do it
how we had no one to show us the way
and I found solace in meth and squatting
and he found a crack pipe, inhaled deep
to fill in the gap of love the world took from both of us.
Of course, we agree.
We had to get our warmth
from somewhere and we all know
how that high makes everything else go away.
There’s a single mother in Memphis
who announces she’s pregnant again
on Thanksgiving Day over cornbread
when everybody knows she’s already
stretched so thin she might break
but lift their glasses for a toast
to baby number four
to life’s greatest blow against death
which is babies and being there for each other.
It’s the immense generosity of the poor
that mends and patches and stitches
the elbow of your coat
the hand-me-down clothes
the wounds of everyday cruelties
a threat of the pipes freezing
missing another day with your mother
another lost week at a job you hate
another mouth to feed against the bleak
truth of less money and more winters
and more delays and the ever looming
certainty of death on the other side.
Every one of these everyday heroes
waiting on the inevitable as though it’s nothing
penning another opening scene
never even mentioning the curtain call
worried in private but glowing
when you hold out a hand
all with the grace of folk
who warm you and mend you
and keep you from waiting alone.