Snow lingers longest in shadow
and the cold clinging fingers of winter scrape
shape sidewalks and front yards:
crumbling concrete bricks turned to dust beaten down by shovel and plow.
My breath takes form in the frigid air
its heart beating mere moments
until it shivers and dissipates in the lower atmosphere.
Ice packed snow mounds line streets,
plastic and fake wood cheap chairs
reserve street-side parking,
these spaces carved out not for passersby
in this city of brotherly love.
I am bundled against the cold on an otherwise clear day,
navigating labyrinthine and icy paths.
Passing three young men
I quietly turn down Belmont Avenue.
Head down, I mark the steps in front of my toes.
Head down, I slow march toward the bus stop marked 40.
From behind comes a low grumbled yell.
Turning my head the three young men again appear in view
but who would want to talk to me?
Who would even know me 2 miles from home,
here in this city of strangers,
here where I spend only minutes passing between work and the Forty
at the corner of Belmont and City.
I continue walking but still I wonder: had something slipped from my pack
were these boys
black teens all neat and clean
here to help me?
Packed ice skitters against the backs of my feet
is followed by another gruff yell.
But if someone wants my attention could they address me more directly?
And worrying did I leave something behind,
swinging from one shoulder my backpack gently unwinds,
checking its contents for some peace of mind.
Packed ice skitters against the backs of my feet.
I am now halfway down the block halfway to the bus stop,
turning again to see these three men now halfway again between me
and the City.
“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, slightly afraid.
I now realize they do not come with aid,
but could they really think I mean to pull out a gun?
Instead, I pull out a bus token.
His fears extinguished, thin leader demands, “Give us a bus token.”
Anger tinges my voice, “I don't have anymore.”
“Give us some money,” he commands.
“I don't have any.”
I am lying but am yet unwilling to forsake the sixteen quarters
tucked deep in my bag,
emergency funds for emergency rides.
I sling my backpack back onto my back and turn with quickened pace.
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," is all I my mind can muster:
chemicals explode inside my brain inside my body.
They close in around me, one comes in close to my right,
thin leader to my left, and another, a tag along, lays somewhat hidden behind.
My glance moves to my right,
and a sudden jab smacks my neck where juts the left edge of my jaw.
Adrenaline fueled, I feel nothing.
I scramble over a snow mound
step out into the street-side parking
create distance where none was before.
I pick up a chair in defense
and to this thin leader insists,
“I'm gonna kick your ass if you hit me with that."
As if I was the aggressor
as if I came for plunder
as if I was the one to trouble a stranger.
I step out into the slow moving oncoming traffic,
force at least one car to stop, force at least one person to call up the cops
and already the other two slink behind their brace faced leader,
not off into some mid-day shadow
but slinking off as if shamed
or else avoiding the blame.
Eyes now turn to the left
and damn the 40 rounds the corner of Belmont and Ford.
Dropping the chair I sprint down the lane,
hands waving in frantic motion,
adrenaline compelling unthinking action.
But memory's minutes mere moments
as seconds of time,
and damn the feet fly by!
But then it slows down for an elderly woman
half hidden behind a telephone pole.
Running the final thirty feet, pulling token from pocket, boarding the bus.
Heart beating a thousand times a minute.
And though my neck and jaw will be sore for a few days
I am otherwise unscathed
on this my birthday.