Tom the vet (january 2019)

he’s standing near the subway entrance
at 44th and 8th
a thin white man
medium height with bright eyes
dressed in slightly worn blue jeans
and a nice striped shirt
that he’s had on
for a few too many days

he’s underdressed for the mild winter day
holding a 5 by 8 piece of lined white paper
wants money no doubt
seems to be in his 30s
but you never can tell

he says his name is Tom and is a vet
i’m thinkin’ iraq war

as he speaks i notice his bad teeth
misaligned with maybe one missing
not quite the british look
more west virginia

he runs his script
like a ball rolling down a hill
bumping along
haltingly picking up steam

he occasionally points to the paper
which has letters and numbers
in several sizes shapes colors
and handwritten fonts

he lives in a vet shelter in new jersey
can stay there as long as he’s workin’
just lost his job
went to the city for a couple of interviews
thinks he maybe landed a gig in brooklyn
gotta get back to the shelter now

he says he got MS
from his mom
who had it before him
the disease usually skips
a generation
but didn’t in his case

he likes this corner we’re on
it’s as far from port authority as he can handle
but a straight shot down 8th avenue
to get back there

it’ll cost him twenty nine fifty to get home
nineteen fifty for one bus, ten dollars for another
he shows this to me
on the piece of paper
written proof

i hand him thirty bucks
his face lights up like a kid
who just got a case of candy

he asks where he can get
something cheap to eat
i point down 44th toward 9th
there’s a pizza place
right off the corner

he hesitates
says i don’t want to
lose this corner
i say it’s one block there
and one block back

as he slowly walks away
i notice his limp

outside Eisenberg’s

the easel sign
outside Eisenberg’s says

sorry we’re open
raising cholesterol
since 1929

next to it sits
an old guy i know

he’s a slow motion
runaway train

never got a piece
of the rock

the notches on his thighbone
have turned to scars

he goes to the Y every day
calls it the wrinkle room

his bon vivanting days
are behind him

no more
paregoric pall malls
or post-coital
skin glow

now it’s geritol
and wash n wear
desert boots

there’s a bit of
the philosopher
in him

he says you enter the world crawling
and exit it the same way
it’s not Father Time
it’s gravity

he says he’s been relegated
to the dustpan of history
mangling the famous
quote from marx

there’s a madness
to his method

he used to be allergic
to trouble

now he’s allergic
to the world