Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Bag Lady Who Haunts My Dreams

She was sitting on the pavement
on a small square of blanket
at the corner of Granville and Georgia.
Ringing her little bell,
she chanted ceaselessly,
She was at least eighty years old,
and it was January cold.

I came to a full. stop.
Fumbling in my bag,
I pulled out a twenty.
It was not nearly enough
to solve this situation,
but it was what I could do,
right now.

As I bent to hand it to her,
her eyes lit up
in disbelief, in joy.
Twenty dollars would buy
something warm to drink,
something to eat,
maybe a treat.
Unexpected wealth
in a life of
bare day-to-day

"Oh, thank you, my dear!"
her small hand, like a claw,
holding my wrist.
She tried to give me her watch.
Gently, I declined.

I looked into her eyes
and felt fear.
Was I looking at
my own future?
I am always only
a few hundred dollars
from the streets.
But I have people
who would not
abandon me.

What was she doing
in her eighties
sitting on the cold
winter pavement,
watching all the legs
passing by?

Why was she not in
a warm facility,
being brought cups of tea
and muffins?
Where was the System,
that left her sitting here?

And where were her people?
Once she was beloved,
with a husband and a home,
with things she dusted,
with tables and chairs,
and warm beds.

What could I do,
to get her some help,
in town for only
this one day?
I had to keep walking,
part of the system
that left her sitting there,
on that cold pavement,
turning away,
moving past
the discomfort,
one more
set of legs
moving on.

Compassion in inaction,
in a world so unbalanced,
no way to set it right.

As I walked away,
I could hear her,
still ringing her little bell:

I still see her face,
hear her little bell,
her voice ~ 
every winter,
they haunt
my dreams.

Ella's prompt at Poets United's Wonder Wednesday is Kindness, acts of kindness towards us, or those we have performed ourselves. This is more a cry of frustration than an incident of kindness, as there was so little I could do. A dozen years later, I can still see her, remember her small claw-like hand grasping my wrist, as she tried to give me a watch in return for my twenty. 

She was still sitting there a few months later. And then, no more.


  1. What a haunting poem. I too, also never have enough.

  2. Living in India, I have such experiences almost every day. Still, no experience is any less haunting than the previous one.
    Sending lots of love and warmth your way. Have a wonderful new year!

  3. Because of your words, she will haunt all of us who read them. Although this is your story, it is mine as well. I see myself in you as well as her. And she speaks in and for the both of us. Thank you, my friend, this is a good way to begin the New Year.


  4. Yes, I see myself at both sides of this mirror, the needy and the needed, tho I too have loved ones who might help (not so sure as you, but it's never been tested). Your questions hit like fists on a wall, so frustrating!

  5. This is tender Sherry. I think we all share your frustration, guilt, etc. And the fear too.

    (Sorry I've been away. My
    last post explains why.)

  6. Oh, Sherry, this is a heart-breaker. I always do wonder how it is that people come to be in a place where they have no one in their life who can help them & somehow the system doesn't find them! You did a good and kind thing! Bless you.

  7. Thought-provoking. You are so compassionate, Sherry.

  8. "The poor you will always have with you." Jesus Christ couldn't answer this question - that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep asking it.

  9. This expresses (beautifully and heart-rendingly) the guilt I feel each time I pass by or stop to help. There never is enough, and I feel so wrong in my plenty.

  10. the tears are streaming down my face, such amazingly painful poetry.

  11. "Just when we are safest, there's a sunset-touch,
    A fancy from a flower-bell, some one's death,
    A chorus-ending from Euripides,--
    And that's enough for fifty hopes and fears
    As old and new at once as nature's self,
    To rap and knock and enter in our soul,
    Take hands and dance there,

    Robert Browning.

    It is hard to realize that we are always on a knife edge, and rarely acknowledge this.
    Your story puts mine to shame in a way. But yet, kindness shines through both.

  12. oh, so challenging, Sherry. i experience this kind of thing so often, it's heartbreaking. to feel so impotent to do anything about it, to feel part of the "system," to participate, unwillingly, but participating nonetheless.

  13. The system is broken Sherry ~ And my heart goes out to the old woman in the streets ~ There are many like her in the streets, we just don't see them or refuse to see them ~

    Someday, we may be in her shoes, who knows really ~ This is a meaningful share, thank you ~

  14. You tell it so vividly, so well, Sherry. I'm certain that each act of kindness makes a significant impact, even if only for that day. We must always do what we are able, when opportunity presents itself. You did.

  15. There is a saying that for each act of kindness there is a brick placed in your home in Heaven - whether we believe in an actual heavenly place or simply the solidity of kind soul that is our own - you my dear in this and in so many ways that come through your writing have a solid foundation already standing ready. :)

  16. Very vividly told - and kindness on both sides. k.

  17. Sherry,

    You have recounted a very touching experience, which could be repeated the world over. Seeing elderly people sitting homeless and begging is a blight on society, everywhere...
    I saw it very much in San Francisco, when I was there in March 2012. Lines of people queuing at midday, to secure a bed for the night and a bowl of soup...

    Thank you for your spirit of humanity Sherry:)


  18. Sherry what a great poem and blog!! I found you through Eileen's blog. May I become a follower?

  19. Sherry this is so moving and sad at the same time, really great descriptive writing.

  20. Oh Sherry... I've seen her too... or someone just like her... as old... younger, male, female... and we do what we can in a moment like that... and while yes this is a way for you to express your frustration... it was truly an act of kindness... keeping her memory alive in your heart is also a sort of kindness... she will forever be real... she will forever matter... because of you.

  21. Your poem is itself an act --you made me stop and ponder, and remember. We have elderly poor who sell tissue paper in the streets and their calls do linger. Thanks for sharing this.

  22. Sometimes there is nothing we can do to really change things, but we can do something. And you did what you could, I'm sure she remembers you in her dreams as well. I see people in the street asking for help, and I think of it as an opportunity to do what we can. They are the least of us...


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Thank you so much. I will be over to see you soon!