Sunday, March 29, 2009
Hugo and I are leaving the Asian market and this guy comes up and he's all, I need money for some food. Let me write a poem about your son's name. Let me earn it. From his clothes and his smell I think maybe he is homeless.
I try not to slow down, the words no thanks forming somewhere--maybe they make it out loud, maybe not. But he walks with me.
He's all, I'm from Haiti, and ever since I was a boy I have loved writing, and writing poems. You'll see. There is energy in between the letters of our names. You'll see.
And Hugo's all, to the guy, I have an owie!
So I relent. He's all, don't give me money until you see it. What's your son's name?
And I'm all, Hugo.
And the guy is all, NO. Hugo? Like Victor Hugo? And he bows to me in respect, low like a Victorian gentleman asking me to dance. I love his work, he says.
And to Hugo, he's all, you have a big name, young man. You have a big name.
And Hugo's all, I'm TWO! I saw a dragon!
And then he writes. He draws HUGO down the side of his paper and writes a line after each letter.
And then he's done. He reads it to me.
Healing hand of a sweet relief
Under the sky of all souls, in a
Gorgeous cosmic dress of truth
On the bed of a successful journey.
I take it, compliment him. He says, I'm trying to get to Philadelphia to change my situation. I have family there.
I give him a few dollars, offer him the hot food I was going to bring home to Jeff. He takes it, seems genuinely grateful. I wish him luck. We leave.
I feel terrible, nervous and sick, stingy and duped all at the same time. I don't feel like I've done the right thing OR the wrong thing. I normally refuse direct solicitations for help, mostly for my own safety but also because--because why? I don't know. They will probably just go buy booze with it. I give to charity. She probably has to give it all to some guy anyway. If I gave to every person that asked for it... These things we tell ourselves, excuses we give ourselves to judge.
In the Cider House Rules the doctor who performs abortions is drug-addicted and miserable in his own life. But he performs this then-illegal service for women, refusing to get into the right and wrong of it. Just give them what they want, he says. Just give them what they want. I can't remember if it was the voice of a wise man or of one who has given up. But it comes to me often, that phrase.
So for today, I allowed myself that greatest indulgence of believing in a stranger, in taking him at his word. It didn't feel good. In fact, it felt terrible. Someone's son out there in the cold writing poetry for food. And me, stingy in my mistrust. Both of us undeserving.
In the car on the way home Hugo asked over and over for "the Twinkle Twinkle song." And then for it again, and again. Here is the second verse:
When the traveler in the dark
Thanks you for your tiny spark
He'd not know which way to go
If you did not twinkle so
Twinkle twinkle little star...
I hope that man finds his star to follow. I hope he has already.