A Panhandler’s Last Request (poem)
A poetic monologue
There is more to fear than poverty.
God, for instance, is a tricky concept always dangling
at the end of a prostitute’s tear-drop soaked in smooth
on the back of her pimp’s hand and repeated in a trick’s prayer
before sex is exchanged
for currency … currency …
currency is the negative energy that has me outside!
Some mistake my fortune for fate
but my fate seems to be that I am far from fortunate, but blessed
to know the truth when I see it.
Some doctors have called me psychotic.
Doctors do not know much which is why
I stay reading,
I am psychic!
I first saw today when my mother gave me a silver dollar and told me to get whatever I wanted, I rushed to the store seeking … seeing
everything and nothing all at once!
A piece of candy, wrapped in clear
plastic, that made the sprinkles of sugar
shine like a shooting star
twinkled at me! Ha!
I shoved the dollar at the clerk like I knew what I was doin!
I thought I gotta fair deal trading one shiny thing for another.
I thought I gotta better deal ‘cause what I got tasted sweeter than that silver coin –
I skipped home
only to find my momma crying soft tears, sayin
we did not have enough money for our own place no more.
That was the exact moment I learned
how tricky fortune can be: while I was sucking on that sweet
candy to a bitter rhythm, in front of my momma!
I realized that in less than five minutes, it had taken me thirty seconds
to spend every penny she had given me
on what I thought, I wanted more than anything.
In the blink of an eye my desires changed!
My world changed.
Church folks who pass me on the street, before they give
me what they can spare they say
“God don’t never change” and
that is how I know
they do not know much.
I have seen all of the prayers any religion can stand out here –
there is even prayer in the tremble
of a smack-addicts scratching hands – my gospel is here, and
I have seen God change
according to how I smell: on days when I am too sick to stand
in line at the shelter to get a clean blanket and a shower – I am God covered
in Earth and street shit!
I Am, feared!
Approached and avoided all at once while collecting offering!
Most folks would have you thinking I am describing the devil.
But folks do not know much
which is why I talk to God.
I have seen more cold than I have felt.
I have felt more darkness than I have seen, and so
I know a monster when I see one, see!
[holds out a single Western paper currency]
Monsters are green with two sides to them!
They possess people into being possessions
monsters and prayers for monstrous things!
When I hold out my hand I know for what I am asking.
I can control the monsters from here:
Little by Little & Thought by Thought,
as long as all I truly have is me.
I refuse to turn
into some of the newbies I have come across out here …
I ain’t been scratched by the monster since
I sold my soul for sugar with magic sprinkles.
And ever since that day, it is the only thing
I have ever begged to keep … The only thing.
Copyright © 2018 Joyce Lee. Commissioned by Grantmakers in the Arts for this issue of the Reader.