Snow lingers long in shadow
cold clinging fingers of winter scrape
shape sidewalks and front yards:
crumbling concrete bricks beaten by shovel and plow turn to dust.
Ice packed mounds line streets,
aging plastic or fake wood chairs reserve streetside parking,
spaces carved out not for passersby
in the City of Brotherly Love.
Breath takes form in the frigid air
its heart beats mere moments
until it shivers and dissipates in the lower atmosphere.
I am layered against the cold on an otherwise clear day.
Navigating labyrinthine and icy paths
and 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 walking between work and the Forty
at the corner of Belmont and City.
I continue walking but still 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
followed by another gruff yell.
But if someone wants my attention they could address me more directly.
Still worrying that I'd left something behind,
swinging from shoulder my backpack gently unwinds.
I check its contents for peace of mind.
Packed ice skitters against the backs of my feet.
Now halfway down the block halfway to the bus stop,
I turn again to see these three boys now halfway again between me and the City.
“Can I help you guys with something?” I ask impatient.
Still huddled, their thin leader asks, “What are you getting out of your bag?”
He sounds angry, slightly afraid.
Does he think I mean to pull out a gun?
I pull out a bus token.
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 yet unwilling to forsake the sixteen quarters
tucked deep in my bag
(emergency funds for emergency rides).
I sling pack back on back turn and quicken my pace
but they follow even faster.
And soon amidst craggy mounds of ice and snow,
three boys, their thin leader's teeth bound with braces,
surround me, and again thin leader demands money.
“I don't have any," is all my mind can muster:
chemicals explode inside my brain inside my body.
They close in around me, one on my right,
thin leader on the left, and a tag along somewhat behind.
My glance scans to the right,
a sudden jab smacks my neck where the left edge of my jaw juts out,
but adrenaline fueled, I feel nothing.
I scramble over a snow mound
step out into the streetside parking
create distance where none was before.
I pick up a chair in defense
to this thin leader insists,
“I'm gonna kick your ass if you hit me with that."
as if I was the one come for plunder
as if I was the one to trouble a stranger.
I step out into slow moving oncoming traffic
cars slow now that I'm out in the open.
Already the other two slink behind their brace faced leader,
as if avoiding blame.
My eyes turn to the left
and the 40 comes round the corner of Belmont and Ford.
Dropping the chair I sprint
hands waving in frantic motion,
chemicals 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.
I run the final thirty feet, pull the token from pocket, board the bus.
My heart beats 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.