Tag Archives: brief encounter

Theodore on the porch of the National Gallery

Forty-five minutes to wait for Allen —
 who never did plant trees for the White House —
   sitting on a bus stop bench facing Constitution.
Homeless black guy approaches and I stand.
 “Don b’fray.”
   Face of a monster! Fire? Nam?
   One eye gone.
    Mouth so burnt
  his words are a puzzling blur.
“I’m not afraid. Here, Sir.”
 I hand him a ten
    He holds it up to his one dim eye
  and smiles.

We shake hands.
    “Hello, I’m Ernie.”
 “Mm Thrrrrr.”
    “Pleased to meet you. Say it again, your name?”
          “Amm Thdrrrr.”
          “Ssss, Thdrrr.”

Rain starts falling
   so I move to the porch of the National Gallery.
 “Don’ bfray!!”
“I’m not afraid. Just wet.”
    He offers me his bottle
and tells me his story
 on the porch of the Gallery.
I understand one word in ten,
    looking into his one dim eye,
           asking him to say it again
      and again.

From time to time
       fear does flit through my mind.
   I might misunderstand
         say the wrong thing to him
     trigger an attack.
I tell him my story
     to relax from the stress
  of listening to words from a ruined mouth
        I can hardly understand.

Then he seems to tell me about
 a man and a lie.
   I look at the valleys down his face
      and hear about a man and a bottle of lye.
He offers me his bottle.
Little white flecks of spit hit my blazer.
      I move to the side, out of range,
  and tell him how Ely, my bro in Atlanta
         was a freedom fighter in the Sixties,
   freedom fighter even now.
      Theodore points to his chest,
           “Freem fire too.”

He waits with me, telling his story.
      I understand one word in ten,
    and look into his one dim eye
       wondering when was the last time
  anyone had looked into his face
 or listened to his words.
Allen’s car pulls up and we shake.
    Theodore holds on tight to my hand,
  telling me one more story.
 I pull loose.
    He offers me his bottle.

         June 8, 1992