The Demand by Tony Iovino

And it’s a sweltering late afternoon
Shimmering waves pulsing off concrete
Even as the sun starts to flee
From what it has wrought on this southern city that’s
Not my home,
Not my turf,
And I head to the corner
Gonna turn left, then right, and get back into the conditioned air,
Peel off this shirt that clings,
The miracle fiber failing to wick away
my body’s soggy attempt to cool itself
And he’s there.

He was passing me
Hands on a walker, but he’s stopped and turned
And he’s here.
Right here.

And he says

Help me, I got nuthin’.

And time stops

as I assess
He’s not a threat.
He’s old and bent and weak-thin,
Body-abused-thin,
Cheap-whiskey thin.
He’s no threat to my body.
Older though I’ve gotten
There’s still strength in these arms
And muscle-memory of youthful fights.
He’s no thug, no skin head, no beered-up younger version of me.

And time is still frozen on this blistering sidewalk,

Is he a scam artist, a con, a grifter
Diverting my attention so my pocket can be picked?
Is this an act? Will he toss the walker
And Ussein Bolt it down the street,
My wallet clutched in that withered hand?
No, no, He’s no threat to body or purse.

Still, no please was uttered, no supplication.
A demand.

Help me. I got nuthin’

And you. Look at you, his eyes accuse
You, you got a lot,
I can see it
We both know it
Yeah, well, I earned every bit of it, I silently rail
I worked for it
I didn’t put it up my arm or
Waste it on slow horses
Or cheap gin or a crack pipe.
I studied when I could have partied
Worked when I could have partied
Stayed late at the office when I could have partied.

And time remains anchored
Not a second has ticked
And I flash on the warnings
Don’t give to the street peddlers
It can ruin a neighborhood
They can ruin a neighborhood
This isn’t a made-for-TV tearjerker
Or a liberal nirvana
Street people too often are sick
Too often dangerous
Too often a threat
Give and you’re part of the problem
But I hear Jesus and I hear Buddha and
I even hear my softer self reproach me
And my guilt rises and
My anger flashes at this decrepit old man

Demanding, not begging,

Feeding my guilt
Playing my guilt

And time stays rooted
And I reach into my pocket
And I thrust thin paper into his bony hand.
He’s not a threat,
Except to my sleep tonight.
I thrust green faces at him
Solving nothing
Changing nothing
But cheaper than ambien

And we each walk on.

TONY IOVINO IS THE FOUNDER AND HOST OF THE ACCLAIMED SUMMER GAZEBO READING SERIES IN OCEANSIDE, NY, NOW IN ITS 11TH SEASON. HE IS THE AUTHOR OF THE NOVEL “NOTARY PUBLIC ENEMY” (DIVERSION PRESS, 2011) AND NUMEROUS PUBLISHED POEMS AND ESSAYS.

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