Snow lingers longest in the shadows
the cold clinging fingers of winter scrape
shape sidewalks and front yards: crumbling concrete
bricks turned to dust and such as lives
are beaten down by the plow.
Breath takes form against the cold
its heart beats mere moments
until it shivers and dissipates into the lower atmosphere.
Snow and ice packed mounds line streets,
plastic and fake wood cheap chairs
put holds on street-side parking,
explaining the value of hard work,
that though shovel and cold hand can undo
chemistry dropped from cloud and sky,
these spaces carved out not for passersby,
in this city of brotherly love.
I leave work early, the price I pay for working with students on a cold December day.
Bundled against cold on an otherwise clear day,
I navigate icy paths that mark haphazard sidewalks,
turn the corner onto Belmont Avenue and quietly I pass three young men;
mere teenagers in this fast-tick life.
Head down, I make toward a bus stop marked for the 40,
head down, I look forward to the evening of my birthday.
A yell fills the air between my ears,
I turn to look, the three young men stand huddled together:
against the cold?
Not another word, so I guess who would want to talk to me,
who would even know me, here 2 miles from home,
here in this city of strangers,
here where it takes me only moments to pass between bus stop and the HLC.
I turn back to walking, and yet I wonder, did I drop something,
is some gentle spirit trying to help this wayward traveler?
Packed ice skitters against the backs of my feet,
and another gruff yell, but I think if someone wants my attention,
better to address me than general utterances in this open air.
But still, I wonder, did I leave something drop?
Swinging my backpack onto one shoulder
I rummage, checking its contents.
Packed ice skitters against the backs of my feet.
I am now halfway down the block, halfway to the bus stop.
I turn again, these three men now following me,
now halfway again between me and City Line Avenue.
“Can I help you guys with something?” I ask, obviously impatient.
Still huddled, their thin leader asks, “What are you getting out of your bag?”
He sounds angry, perhaps slightly afraid.
It is now I know they do not come with aid,
but could they really think I mean to pull a gun on them?
I pull out a bus token.
Their fears extinguished, they stride toward me,
thin leader demands, “Give us a bus token.”
Anger tinges my voice, “I don't have anymore.”
“Give us some money,” as they walk closer.
“I don't have any.”
I am lying, but I'm yet unwilling to forsake the sixteen quarters I keep tucked deep in my bag,
emergency funds for emergency rides.
I sling my backpack back on, and turn with quickened pace,
but they follow even quicker.
Soon amidst craggy mounds of ice and snow,
three boys, mere teens, their thin leader's teeth bound with braces,
surround me, and again thin leader demands money.
“I don't have any.”
Chemicals inside my body inside my brain explode,
they close in around me, one young thug comes in close to my right,
thin leader to my left, another, perhaps a tag along, is somewhat hidden behind.
I look to my right
and a sudden jab marks a spot beneath my left ear where juts my neck and jaw.
Adrenaline fueled, I feel nothing,
Is this really happening? Are these puppy dog teens really trying to pull this off?
I quickly scramble over a snow mound, step out into a parking space,
create distance where none was before.
Picking up a chair, all I can think to defend myself.
Thin leader insists, “If you hit me with that I'm gonna kick your ass.”
As if I was the aggressor, as if I came for plunder, as if I was the one to trouble a stranger with intimidation and violence.
Seeing traffic coming from my right, I step out into it, to force the cars to stop, force someone to look around.
Already two have slunk back behind brace faced leader,
slunk away not into shadow (as this is mid-day)
but slunk as if now shamed by their failed venture.
A sight I must have been! Rickety chair upheld, standing in the street!
But turning to my left, I see the 40 round the corner.
Get on the bus! Get out of here and onto the bus!
I drop the chair and sprint down the middle of the lane,
sprinting waving hands in frantic motion, but the driver doesn't see me.
And then it slows to pick up an elderly lady,
a woman I had missed half hidden behind a telephone pole.
I run the final thirty feet, pull the token from my pocket, board the bus.
Heart beating a thousand times a minute, mind racing.
And though my neck and jaw will be sore for a few days
I am otherwise unscathed.