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Thursday, Oct. 27, 2005 09:45 am

People’s poetry

Edited by Corrine Frisch

When Carol Manley sent this poem I was struck by its similarity to Robert Clarke’s, published here on Oct. 13. While Clarke encountered a beggar in Lisbon, Manley only had to travel as far as downtown Springfield to find the same kind of need. Both poems, a short haiku sequence and this longer free verse, express how inadequately we are dealing with poverty in our midst.
In the oppressive August heat
Even the shadow of the new
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
Offers little relief.

I’m heading back to work late
I’ve eaten too many falafels for lunch
My employee ID hangs
limp and sweaty around my neck
on its lanyard.

Heading North, I pass a woman going South
Her grim expression warding off strangers
protecting the plastic wrapped bundles
Of what is probably everything she owns.

Even in this heat that feels like weight
On my shoulders she wears
Too many clothes.
I mentally inventory my pockets.

If she looks my way I tell myself
I will give her money
but she hides from my eyes
in defensive homelessness.

The minute I reach the curb some man
plants himself in front of me
His cap says he’s a veteran of some war
You see that homely woman? He asks

I tell him he means home-less.
He pushes his indignant sputtering face
toward my hot and sweaty one.
She wanted to go down on me for a dollar, he says.

A dollar, I say, that’s very sad

I wish I’d given her ten.

— Carol Manley
Carol Manley is primarily a fiction writer whose stories, poems and essays have been published in small journals around the country. She studied writing at Sangamon State University and earned a master’s degree in English from UIS. She was the 1995 recipient of the Friends of Lincoln Library Writer of the Year Award for poetry.
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