on the sidewalk

What’s here this morning is an absence. The thin, grizzly drunk who occupies this corner or that one, and nobody pays him mind. He’s out there all day, in every season, his skin has thickened and tanned deeply by consequence. He sits and stands and sometimes drinks from a paper bag. When people pass by he slurs pleasantly, “God bless the peoples and the gentlemen and the ladies.” I realized at some point the blanket blessing came on account of his vision being too glazed to tell the difference. Sometimes he had fresh clothes, and other times they seemed stiffened and layered like the skin itself. Once he must have stepped outside the bounds that render him harmless; I saw some cops come pick him up. But when he slept on the quiet sidewalk around the corner, he blended in with the weeds sprouting between the sidewalk cracks, the dumpster that gave him shade.

You see, I’ve switched to the past tense. The thing is, the last time I saw him was a day of punishing heat, and he was curled and sprawled on the sidewalk in full sun, as if the body hadn’t the tension to maintain the sheltering tuck. I saw that he was breathing and left him alone. He had been the wanderer of a three block radius for years, looking always as though he existed at the edge between death and life, hollowed and overgrown. Why at this one moment would I interfere? A few other people passed by, paused to wait for the slowly moving chest, and walked on.

Now that I don’t see him around, I’m thinking back to that moment in the sun, to how severely dark his face was, darker than any tan an outdoor existence could produce. It was the darkness of the body dying, of systems shutting down.

I want to ask someone what happened. I don’t know who to ask.

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