[from Stanley Plumly's Old Heart, 2007]
The Woman Who Shoveled the Sidewalk
She clearly needed more than money,
which, anyway, wasn't much.
Her dog, one of those outlawed fighting breeds,
black-and-white and eyes too far apart,
kept snapping at the leash, the cash
I placed as simply as I could into her open hand.
Her small stalled car was what she lived in,
the death seat and backseat all-purposed into piles.
She was desperate so she blessed me.
I could almost feel my mother standing there,
the way she'd greet the lost after the war.
A woman vulnerable is powerful.
Poverty in all the texts grants grace
to the raveled and unwashed,
just as the soul we assign to what is singing
in the trees, even in winter, lives
in the face and voice of the least.
You could see the random child in her,
who had got, today, this far.
You could hear, under her words, silence.
There wasn't that much snow, enough
to take its picture if you left it untouched.
Her companionable, hostile dog was what she had,
who stayed in the car while she started in earnest,
as if the work were wages. Young, off
or still on drugs — I couldn't tell —
she was alone in every hard detail.
Each day is lifted, then put back down.
Tomorrow's snow turns back into the rain.
I had to be somewhere but knew when
I got home she'd be gone. And the walk,
from start to finish, would be clean.
Old Heart: Poems