Tuesday, February 23, 2010

guttersnipe



the boy moves in short shuffling steps.


in the tiny arc of his shoulders,

a resigned weariness

reflecting years of searching the pavement

with his eyes.


if you could convince him to lift his head,

you would be drawn to those eyes,

pale as winter moss.


in their hollowness

would be revealed a sense of life

as something

that has yet to be convinced

of his rightful place in it.


as evening spreads across the street,

hard-edged forms soften.


the boy could easily miss the small matchbox in the gutter.


but he doesn't.


passing through a pale yellow slice of of light,

he sees its rectangular outline.


closer still,

the cluster of pale red matchheads.


shuffling to the edge of the curb,

he crouches down

low to the cobbled roadway,

stretches out one small arm

and wraps his thin grey fingers around the cardboard prism.


the boy stands up slowly,

as he pushes the box inside his shirt

alongside the piece of bread,

the half-eaten apple,

the crumpled paper bag,

and the small green glass bottle.


it’s almost time to find a place to sleep for the night.


detail from little cobbler’s shop childe hassam



to read more variations on this meme then visit magpie's tales.

42 comments:

Patty Mooney said...

Having done a couple of video documentaries about homeless people and homeless veterans, this really tells the story, doesn't it.

NanU said...

An astonishing portrait, steven, deeply moving. Bravo!

Lorenzo said...

This is really superb, Steven. Very different from the nearly daily nature epiphanies discovered on your walks in the woods, but just as evocative. A very poignant journey from pondering what his rightful place in life might be to looking for a place to spend the night.

Lorenzo said...

... and the image of the guttersnipe you conjured up was so riveting that I forgot to mention: I love Childe Hassam. I feel he is not as widely known as his work deserves, so it is always good to see a spotlight on his art.

Peter Goulding said...

A pale, yellow slice of light! Very evocative

steven said...

hi patty- i spent a summer working with homeless people in toronto. some of them were pre-teens huffing bags of glue and turning tricks to stay alive. some of them were old men taking the food i gave them from the little foodbank we were running and trading it for booze. all 'round it was a huge wakeup for a suburban teenager. steven

steven said...

nanu thankyou very much. i had a friend who told me that when he was very little, he used to wait outside the pubs (he was english) for the men to come out and throw away their cigarette ends. he would run over and empty the unburnt tobacco into a tin that (when full) he would sell. steven

steven said...

hi lorenzo - i'm glad you saw the little loop embedded in the story. it's true for many people not just those who are homeless!!! steven

steven said...

hi lorenzo , childe hassam's work is superb and evocative i agree! i messed with this painting in iphoto because i needed only part of the original painting and then also in grey scale! hope childe doesn't mind. steven

Brian Miller said...

very nicely done...i think you capture the emotion of his situation very well. great take on the theme...

steven said...

hello peter - thankyou for your kind comment and thanks for dropping by!! steven

Elisabeth said...

It's cold comfort for a homeless boy- a few matches.

Terrific story, Steven and markedly different from what I'm used to from you. It's bleak but still holds your hall mark tinge of hope.

Bee said...

What a poignant twist on the Little Matchstick Girl. Your description of his eyes, his internal beliefs, are heart-rending.

SUN DANCE HILL said...

The nature of desperation - so aptly written; and Childe Hassam - perfect for the imagery set forth in your poetry.

Barry said...

A bleak, insightful but honest portrait, Steven. Very well done.

willow said...

Poignant and heart wrenching, Steven. Beautifully written. I particularly like your description of his eyes as "pale as winter moss".

Vicki Lane said...

Haunting description! Loved the 'pale as winter moss'!

Golden West said...

You transported me to a Dickensian time and then it dawned on me that this scene is current, as well.

The Bug said...

Lovely (is that the right word for this bleak picture?) - you drew me in & made me want more with just a few words.

Meri said...

The images are haunting, the words devastating. Too many throwaway kids are on the streets.

R. Burnett Baker said...

A story to make us all leave the comfort of our own lives... What stops us, really, but our fear of caring....

Rick

christine said...

This writing is pure beauty and so engaging I loved the language, what a command you have of it.
I shall wait for your next piece.

Chris

Linda Sue said...

Well, that piece just undid me! I am so self absorbed I forget that the homeless struggle so, there aren't many in our community and those who are, are pretty well looked after...the youth especially are given special consideration. Programs are in place, never enough love and understanding but there is warmth and food. Love this piece, gets me out of my comfort zone long enough to feel compassion for those on the street- how did they become so? why do we not do more? What do we do with the mentally ill in this country- there is no safe haven for them...thank you Mr. Reagan...

steven said...

elisabeth - it's in response to a prompt from willow (of willow manor blog fame). i saw the boy in my mind when i saw the matches. he was me. i watched hom for a couple of days and then wrote this piece and rebuilt it every couple of hours. there's more. hope is one of the features of his life. if the opportunity arises then he'll appear here again. steven

steven said...

hello bee! lovely to see you again! there is something of the little matchstick girl and i wonder if that echoed in my memory as i thought about this one! steven

steven said...

sun dance hill - thankyou so much for that kind comment!!! i really appreciate the work of childe hassam and i'm glad others do also!!! steven

steven said...

hey barry - it's bleak and i feel hope in it also. thanks for the comment. steven

steviewren said...

I really like the way you describe the boy's eyes.
"you could convince him to lift his head,
you would be drawn to those eyes,
pale as winter moss.
in their hollowness
would be revealed a sense of life
as something
that has yet to be convinced
of his rightful place in it."

Very nice!

steven said...

hi willow - a very cool visual prompt that led straightaway to the mind's eye view of the boy. i really like that!!! steven

steven said...

hey brian - nice to meet you and thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment! steven

steven said...

hi vicki - that's what i saw when i looked into his eyes. it's the weirdest thing - to have a character in your mind. i don't write very often and so this is soemthing of a challenge for me. but i really enjoy it and i am glad you did as well. steven

steven said...

hey golden west - i love dicken's writing a lot. but i have seen this scene in current times firsthand. thanks for visiting. steven

steven said...

hey bug - thanks for that! i think there's more but i just don't know when or why i'll write it down. steven

steven said...

meri - it's true in every country in the world. in my mind i had this boy placed in the early nineteen hundreds. thanks for the kind comment. steven

steven said...

hey rick - so many of the kids i work with come from situations one step removed from the experience of this boy. it's amazing how close to the edge so much of my wealthy society is. thanks for the thoughtful comment. steven

steven said...

hi chris, thanks for your thoughtful and generous comment! i'm learning to write and so you and the other visitors here are my first readers. it's very happy making to know that something can reach into someone else's thinking and leave them richer. steven

steven said...

linda sue i share your empathetic outreach. the writing of this little vignette brought me back in contact with some of my own deeper fears , experiences, memories, and then to my current work as a teacher in a poorer part of the community. there is support available but not (as you say) the love and care that helps people move on from where they're at. thanks for the thoughtful comment. steven

steven said...

steviewren - i don't want to be proud of my work in a vain way. that excerpt was easily the part i was most happy with. i felt like the boy's existence was so subject to something beyond himself and yet he was also so self-reliant. as lorenzo (coment wayyyy above said: "a very poignant journey from pondering what his rightful place in life might be to looking for a place to spend the night." steven

spacedlaw said...

Haunting tale, this one.

jinksy said...

A superb vignette you painted here with your carefully chosen words.

Bachelor said...

Oh wow... you are tugging at my heart here Steve.... love it though :) The Bach

BT said...

Phew, I've just read all the comments as they often explain things I don't quite understand. This is a truly moving portrait of the boy with pale winter moss eyes. It filled me with sadness, then I thought of him laughing with another and smiled. I hope he found a warm place to sleep. I don't know childe hassam, so I'm off to learn. Thank you steven.