Homeless, Help Me
by Sy Roth
Like an armadillo rolled in a pitiable ball at the base
of the wall surrounding the main branch of the New York Public Library
she sits huddled
her backpacks form her castle walls
the top of her head visible,
an oily unwashed tangled mass of black hair streaked white,
peeps from between her splayed knees
an indelicate drizzle wraps the streets in an ominous pall
caresses the walkers in a fearful embrace
her sign shouts “Homeless, help me!”
avoided by passing eyes
rests awkwardly on her lap
We walk by her
when a woman pauses in front of the street relic
and taps her gently on the shoulder.
The armadillo unfurls,
head snapping up, shoulders rigid
electric terror fills her eyes
the woman extends a snack bar
waves it at her like a red cape until she relents.
Unsure that this is the help that she desires
she remains impassive stuffing the bar in a fold of her jacket
the other leaves to join her friends.
A boisterous Hare Krishna parade passes by
participants resplendent in their orange dhotis and Yogi pants
many aloft on colorful floats dancing to raucous flutes and tambours.
The armadillo resumes its shape.
When we come upon a younger woman
whose residence on another corner, a street away,
attracts little attention
a sign rests, as well, in her lap
“Homeless, help me!” frames her morose eyes
she surrounded by her backpacks, loneliness stamped in her eyes
Nobody stops this time
her eyes do not follow the moving train of people who bypass her
the light rain consumes her
she draws her rucksack walls closer
the world creeping self-indulgently along
They are locked in the silence of their signs.