Amos stands on a subway platform
littered with stubbed-out cigarettes.
For three sins, even for four,
I will not reverse it! The commuters
skirt his dirty robes, avoid eye contact.
He rails about forgiveness
and fire, the sun going dark at noon
and if anyone listens, they roll their eyes
at the homeless guy who doesn't know
an eclipse from an apocalypse.
Late afternoon he loses steam
-- hungry or disheartened; does it matter?--
and curls into his cardboard box
trying to disappear. The clink of coin
startles him: a woman with greying hair
crouches at his feet, waiting for him to see.
She merges back into the crowd.
Justice will well from the deepest trench,
he mutters, righteousness like waters
flooding a dry ravine. He rises,
the money clenched in his dirty palm.
You will slink into your ruined cities
and drink from your vineyards again!
Rush hour again: but for this one moment
he doesn't mind that no one hears.
This poem arises out of the prophetic book of Amos. It was also inspired, however obliquely, by the blog post Cup, written by my friend Beth at The Cassandra Pages. (Beth is also my editor at Phoenicia.)
Recasting a Biblical prophet in the role of a contemporary homeless man (or, I suppose, comparing the rantings of the Biblical prophets with the ravings of someone who is disheveled and quite possibly mentally ill) is nothing new. But I like the idea that a gift of momentary connection, a gift of being seen, might be enough to spark the light of forgiveness even in someone who has suffered greatly, or someone who speaks for a suffering God.