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Slice of Lice

12.19.2005 09:56 | DISPATCHES

At holiday time, the call goes out: "Remember the needy." The early sixties, prosperous for most, afforded Americans the luxury of developing a social conscience. Thus was created a climate receptive to Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. However, Hurricane Katrina blew the lid off the box into which poverty was stuffed, and it billowed forth in all its voluminousness.

Since the problem no longer seems manageable enough for us to make a dent in with our checks, we hand poverty back to an indifferent federal government. Meanwhile, despite the irony of progressives gloating, traditional anti-government-spending conservatives, appalled at the amount of money the administration is supposedly spreading around in the wake of the disaster, have turned on the administration.

The poem below is for all those secure in the knowledge that the hordes of homeless roaming the city streets, far from evidence of an unjust society, are simply the byproducts of man's take on nature's way--Social Darwinism. It's written by Andrea L. Alterman, a stalwart of Sleepy Hollow's Hudson Valley Writers Center.

A Question

I ask and I ask again,
how am I supposed to do this,
how do I succeed with nothing
on hand, no tools, no money,
no way to pay for anything
except through an outstretched hand
that no one sees because it begs
for food, for a bed, for cigarettes
to keep the hunger away, and I don't
know how I'll find a job,
how I'll make ends meet when
there are no ends save the ones
I see crossing the street to escape
the limits they place on loitering
near steam vents smelling of Downy,
spring fresh, and I stand there hoping
for some to cover the ripe odor
of too many nights' sweat in my
torn, cast-aside, second-hand coat
picked up when someone richer
than I by dollars left it in the trash,

and I didn't ask since I needed
that outside warm to come within,
I picked it up with my begging hands,
wrapped myself around with it,
respectable for a moment until
the lice of the street take over
and I am begging for food, money,
and places free of lice, free of life
for I know I will die here, in lice
until someone walking by notices
my life in lice.

Finally, this editor wishes you happy huddling days.


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