Woman On A Sidewalk
© Allan Markin

From my booth at the gas station
I watch her pushing her cart
down the cracked sidewalk
in the radiant heat of a merciless sun.

Her plodding reminds me of sad songs
like Wayfaring Stranger shuffling towards
a distant home, in a heavy grey coat
and a hat adorned with faded flowers
pulled low over her head
she seems to shiver, as if she feels a constant chill
perhaps of death, the faint promise of relief.

No one knows where she came from
she just appeared, like an apparition
filling the town with speculation
the mayor didnít care about who she was
because to him she was just more dirt
to clear from his streets.
City council began writing more bylaws
The baker, who supplied stale donuts
to the soup kitchen, heard that she came from Vancouver,
the East End, to be sure.
The cops, concluding that she wasnít a threat to anyone,
ignored her, even when she shuffled across the street
against a red light, paying no attention to the cacophony
of horns urging her to get the hell out of the way.
A local college prof who styled himself a learned man
was sure he saw her at UBC studying great poets
Tennyson, Byron, Blake and, of course, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
The townsfolk held divided opinions about her presence
some saw her as a welcome addition to local colour
to some she was an object of derision, even hate
others took pity on her, while most were just happy
she wasnít wandering in their neighborhoods
The majority didnít care one way or another.

Nobody knew her name, although someone
suggested that it was Nancy
but she remained an anonymous creature
who never spoke

I once tried to talk to her when she collected
her soup and cheese sandwich at the soup kitchen
where I volunteered, where she always took her lunch
but she just looked at me with lifeless eyes
sunk deep in her grey expressionless face.

But now and then I have seen her mutter to herself
when she came to fissures in the sidewalk
staring down at the cracks as if they marked
memorable milestones of her life.
I wondered if straight lines reminded her of good times
when she loved and was loved
when she had a family, a home
friends, children, a career, a future
things that now fill the canyons of her mind

Jagged lines seemed to fascinate her
and she studied them for long minutes
shaking her head, perhaps recalling the highs and lows
of her life, when she began her desperate slide
from light into darkness, when she lost control
when the street became her home
and a shopping cart full of things
the sole expression of her identity.

As she makes her way she sees a tuft of grass
and a tiny dandelion reaching for life
in the broken cement
the yellow flower brings a smile to her face
memories of happy times
great days, promising days
that descended into a darkness of pills, needles
and life in a fraternity of the homeless.

Today, like many days before. she will seek rest
in the bushes below a small bridge
she will spend the night beside a soothing creek
where she will find peace until morning
when she will emerge and wander the streets
replaying her memories, the moments of her life
fragments recollected in melancholic tranquility
until darkness comes and she will sleep.
Next morning, I do not see her crawl up the bank
to the street, the cracked and broken road of her life
she is never seen again
And the townspeople miss her

© Allan Markin