A Dangerous World (Houston Writers Guild Press contest – honorable mention April 28, 2017)

To see the world through another’s eyes
is a dangerous thing:
the loneliness of a widowed mother
as the child slips away,
the desperation of a child
when a parent blinks out
or flees
or just doesn’t understand.

To own their sorrows
and know their secrets
is despair and fear.

How can we care
if we do not know?
How can we know
if we do not see,
when we avert our eyes,
Since we are not …
we are not?

I am not a refugee in a leaky boat,
waiting to sink;
I am not hungry,
rooting through garbage;
I am not black or brown
living in a ghetto forsaken by hope;
I am not an unwanted immigrant
seeking a better life;
I am not an angry white man
watching Fox News;
I am not a black man
fleeing a uniform;
I am not a cop’s spouse
starting at each knock on the door;
I am not a single mother
watching her child off to school;
I am not a soldier
facing an unseen enemy;
I am not a veiled bride
seeing death rain from the sky;
I am not a breast-cancer survivor
facing a mirror;
I am not disabled,
struggling through a door;
I am not a debt-ridden farmer,
tilling dead fields;
I am not oppressed for my religion or race;
I am not gay afraid to come out;
I am not a teenage girl pregnant and alone;
I am not poor and working two jobs;
I am not homeless.
Homeless …

He watches the cars
go past,
the drivers stopped,
staring at anything but him—
gaunt, wasted,
time and drink and fate ravaged—
and his cardboard sign
with its crayon-scrawled letters
that ask for …
and we look away
or hand a folded bill out the window
and drive on,
that we have seen ourselves
in the rear-view mirror,
as he waves farewell
with a raised
middle finger.