the cardboard cut-outs

Here in Chinatown, at 7:36am, the cardboard cutouts still sleep with the rest of their lives scattered beside them. When they sleep, they are still awake, with fingers webbed around their belongings.

I lock up my bike and wish I had something to offer them. More than just a handful of nuts and dried cranberries or one-fourth of a granola bar, from yesterday. More than just a look of acknowledgment (which so often translates as pity). More than just a pile of pennies or coins not quite enough to make a difference.

Later, a cardboard cutout smiles at me and I give him one back. He counts my teeth and notices my scratched body. I notice the bruises staining his face.

He calls this, “A good day.” And I replay his voice in my mind because suddenly I am unsure if he asked, “A good day?” or was telling me, “A good day!”

I want to tell him that it’s good because we are in it. Or it’s good because we are halfway done with it. Or it’s good because we both seem to be breathing and sometimes that is the biggest accomplishment of a day.


why (do) we walk away

It is late. The inside of my mouth is tired. I wait for the 6 train at the Broadway/Lafayette stop on a Thursday. My body feels like it is holding onto too many things; I agree.

The train arrives and I watch a crowd of people get off.

This is an active station, I think to myself.

I don’t question why so many people are getting off; I just feel immediate gratitude that there will definitely be a place for me to sit after a long, long day of standing.

I get on and notice I am one of four people. I inhale. This is a part of living in New York City. We are surrounded by smells, which often chase people off trains or toward the other side of the street. When I moved away for three and a half years, I missed these smells. Now, I realize I have become one of the many who bolt.

I look to my right and immediately notice a human who I’ve seen before. He is large is every direction. Even his hair is looming. He wears a makeshift cloak and has bundles of hair on his face. Like a tantrum of fur. He is not wearing shoes and he is speaking to himself. This last fact is no longer strange since so many people wear contraptions in their ears and are singing along or talking to the noise. However, he didn’t appear to be wearing anything.

There were no smells. He was just a human without feet protection trying to get somewhere.

If this were fiction, I might write that I sat beside him and asked him how he spent his day. If he was hungry? Would he like the rest of my cantaloupe that I got from the farmers market yesterday. I’d tell him it’s so ripe that it will melt in your mouth, so let it slide down. Maybe we’d laugh about how slippery it is, as though each piece was trying to escape our mouths. Maybe I’d tell him how cool all his facial hair is and he’d compliment me on my tie.

The thing is, this is non-fiction. So, I have to be honest and say that his presence scared me a little. At one point, he started banging his feet against the subway floor and bellowing. His hairy face made him appear like a lion. He wasn’t saying anything mean or even translatable; yet I felt like I needed to move.

At the first stop, I got off and switched trains. I watched two other people follow and switch. When I sat down, I noticed a human laughing with his friend and pointing to the other train car. Whispering about this other.

I realized I was no better than this person making fun of another. I walked away and abandoned this person just because he was loud. Just because he was using his feet to create sound. Later on when I switched trains to the 4, I spent the rest of my ride with an extremely loud proselytizer. He was far more scary, reminding everyone on the train who was waiting for us if we made the wrong decisions. 666, he kept saying.

That man with the roar on the 6 train was simply existing. He did not smell, yet even if he did, I know I’ve had days where the heat caused my skin to haunt unpleasantly through its aroma. Social class does not always relate to our scents, nor does kindness or mental state.

That man with no shoes on the 6 train was a six year old once. Maybe he was great at math and had a best friend he climbed trees with. Maybe he was married once. Maybe he is kind.

Why do we walk away so quickly from those who look different than us?

Real fear is real. If he was calling out hate or clutching on to a weapon, then he should be abandoned. But that man with a lion’s roar on the 6 train was just trying to get somewhere. He was harming no one. Perhaps that howl was his way of saying hello.

I will never know.

talk about the time you woke up this morning

I lost someone several years ago. This isn’t the type of loss where you forget where they’ve moved to or no longer have their phone number or got into a ridiculous fight and no longer speak to one another.

This was was the kind of loss that cannot be found.

Fidgeon and I met at Christopher Park in the west village where many poems were written and drugs were scored. I’d sit on the same bench with whatever notebook I was writing in at the time and watched the people arriving and remaining. He was there the first time and most of the times. Through him, I met Justin from Jersey who got clean in jail but wasn’t quite clean anymore. Through him, I met Martin, an old hustler. I met Debbie, covered in bed bugs from the shelters. I met the man with several large nose rings. But it was always Fidgeon I came back to.

After we met, I wrote a poem about him. It wasn’t something I aimed to do, the words arrived.

getting my bearings downtown on christopher street

jesus wants to save his forearm from something that might get him another bullet hole or stab wound willing his pale freckled skin to break away so he sits there/ frozen / awaiting his resurrection/ as the arm lifts brandy to lips speaking to me/ and all I can hear is the sound of pigeons chased away…

I gave this poem to him, captured in thin purple chapbook several months later. He could not believe a poem had been written about him. For him. In his white, ribbed tank top and short sleeved shirt dangling from his back pocket, he jumped around the park shouting:

I got a poem published! This poet wrote about me! I have a poem! I’m in a poem!

Fidgeon couldn’t read well, so he asked me to read it to him. His eyes, the color of ocean strained of human waste, watched me sound out each word.

I kept going back. He’d tell me about his ex-wife who he still loved and hated simultaneously. His son, who was forever tattooed on his shoulder blades. He never asked me for money. And when I was there, he protected me. If Justin or someone whose name I hadn’t learned came up to me (“Can I be in a poem too?”), he’d push them away. He liked full access to the poet. To me. And I gave him my full attention because I knew him best. I knew he was trying hard to stop drinking, even though he later died from it.

Fidgeon did not know much about me. As years went by, my own behaviors were not so dissimilar to those who frequented this park. The difference was I was going to University or had an apartment to return to and a family who still called and a savings account.

Almost three years ago, on a wintery day in mid-January, I learned of Fidgeon’s death from the man with many nose rings. I cried for this man whose last name I never learned.

I haven’t lost many loved ones in my life. I’ve let go of a lot of people as I’ve gotten older. It’s difficult for me to maintain friendships. I’m hardened. I’ve got walls that even lovers haven’t been able to break through.

Now, Fidgeon’s photograph is taped to the window in my bedroom. He floats. Often, when I wake, it feels like a choice. Sometimes, I waver. Sometimes I still go back to Christopher Park and just wish I could see him one more time to let him know what he really meant to me.

So, there was this morning when I woke up. After that time I tried to slice away my lineage. After the night where I passed out from illegal substances. After that time I entered into a world I should never have been a part of. After that time and that time and that time and there was that time…

Sometimes, it is just because I set my alarm clock and I don’t want to disappoint it by pressing snooze over and over again.

Sometimes it is because of that cup of coffee.

Sometimes it is after glimpsing an orange-squeezed sunrise and how can I sleep that away?

I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow morning. I can only talk about this one. And today, I am waking up for him.

where to send a letter

There is a bench with two gold stiletto heeled shoes, abandoned. It is 10:14 am, but they arrived at 2:14 am. I’ve gone missing. Search closely for the clump of hair, 1/2 an earring, my skin cells, blood. I won’t be returning. You may forward all mail here.


My bench is the one with blue and white blanket. Would you believe I’ve had that since childhood? How old do I look? The seams are all ripped open, most of the stuffing is gone, replaced by dead mosquitoes, ants, bed bugs. Don’t take my pillow. Leave it for the next guy. Wanna send a letter? Hide it beneath the painted wood.


I am the seventh bench on Eastern Parkway. Starting from where? Starting from one. Catch me snoring from 3 am – 10. I got weapons hidden in my knees. My hair is contagious. I spit blood and mold. Don’t bother me.


I never pick the same one: benches, girls, apples, moods. I don’t need to be tracked. Not looking to be found. You can still send a letter though. I’m good at unearthing the lost.

can a reflection be walked in?

I see you with paper covering narrow face because too many people called you ugly and not enough humans called you invincible.

I see you crouched against bars like a jail called 14th street subway station with woman called mama and girl called sister and cardboard called megaphone for begging.

Here is an apple and I watch as you dig against the skin with your teeth, spit it out as though it is toxic. It’s OK to eat the flesh, I want to say, but instead I gather up your eating habits and wonder if you even eat enough to have habits.

I see you wearing enough raindrops to call yourself a puddle.

I see your arms covered in so many scars that your skin has become looseleaf, separate and removable.

I see your smile, curved downward and when you pass by accordionist wearing tattoos and blue hair, you want to notice her too. You want to thank her for playing Yann Tiersen as you cry into your palms. You want to ask her to follow you home and rub your back with each pressed note.