fall 2018 / Poetry 2018 / volume 49

Spare Change—Carl Auerbach

By now, it’s become a ritual
that we perform together—the subway beggar
and myself. He sits there huddled
on his fragile black milk crate, sad-eyed,
beaten down, his tattered upturned cap
held in front of him between his knees,
loaded up with nickels, dimes, and quarters,
sometimes even a dollar bill or two,
into which I drop two quarters that will join
his jumbled coins. Then I continue up
the subway stairs to 59th and Lex.

But what would happen if I didn’t have exact change?
Could I just walk by and give him nothing?
He’d be outraged, but what could he really do?
Curse me out, chase after me, insisting
on being paid his due? That just won’t happen.
But still I feel that I should give him something.
Perhaps I could spare a dollar just that once.
No, then I’d have to give one every time.
It’s absurd, but I could buy a candy bar
before I get to him, so I have fifty cents.

My analyst wants me to work on better boundaries,
to not project my own needs onto others.
I see his point, his logic is correct, and yet
when I drop the coins into my subway beggar’s hat,
and he smiles at me with his childlike shy smile
and says, God bless you. Get home safely brother,
I’m surprised, each time, by illogical love and pleasure.

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