Crossing the Street


“I’m sorry, I don’t carry change.”

That’s what I always say, though sometimes
it’s a lie.

From Goa to Mumbai
it is considered unwise to give to children who beg on the streets;
better to donate to charities that protect them from their tormentors.
I live by that principle on my forays through this English town
where the victims are adult, their tormentors
are chemicals to be melted on a spoon and injected,
and their habit can kill.

These days I rarely engage with them;
they don’t require sandwiches, pasties or practical advice
and I can’t give them a bed for the night, so I can do nothing to assist,
yet those eyes kidnapped me as she begged beside Tesco Metro.

“I’m sorry – I don’t carry change,” I said.

It was the eyes that detained me;
eyes that sang in the storm of cause and effect,
in the chaos what was and what might have been;
eyes that could not be silenced, that trilled above the din,
calmly revealing what she would have liked to conceal,
colouring in the thrill of travel, the regret
of roughened hands which once caressed,
rising to a crescendo to describe the hurricane
that threw her up, and flung her
in the gutter,

and as her eyes glistened,
I listened to the howling wind
as it echoed her dirge of the death
of a wolf of the Steppes,

If we are not all equal, as some believe,
she was much more than many I meet. When we parted,
I flirted with my purse, knowing my money would bring her
a pin-prick of relief, but I crushed the brief temptation,
since it could purchase her doom.

Her eyes watched me while I wrote,
and while I ate and read and slept. When I woke
I thought of her.

Spying from my hallowed side of the street,
finding third parties to relate her trials and treats,
I kept my distance to evade the pain of intimacy,

Just once, I fell again
into those eyes that had swum the skies
before sinking into the blood-flecked mud.
I asked her a question and watched her eyes
while they lied to me.

Her tongue was too noble to verbalise an untruth,
yet her eyes suggested a lie;
thereby giving me fake justification
for my evasion.

Yet I had openly lied to her when I had said
“I’m sorry, I don’t carry change.”

I can’t say I knew her, or that she knew me,
but she affected me.
It seems she touched everyone she met.
I wanted her to find peace, but not like this.

I’m on nodding terms with the other side of the street,
so the news has already reached me:
last night, her spectacular eyes
closed for the final time.

Today, two bodies lie in the morgue,
the tiny one tightly curled in the womb of its mother,
and I try not to weep for the multiple tragedy
of mindless heroin’s dumb victory.

Rest In Peace, Diane

Word of the Day Challenge: Spying.

When I feel inspired, I write a poem before checking out the word of the day. I usually find that it fits. Today is no exception.


©Jane Paterson Basil

38 thoughts on “Crossing the Street

  1. I think you must know how moving and beautiful this poem is — and how ironic such beautiful words can be about something so tragic. I won’t dwell on those things.

    Jane, it is profoundly disturbing to me that we have criminalized addictions, thus compounding many-fold their evils. Diane might yet be alive had we not, she might be treated, cured, and safe now.

    There was a young man here about 15 years ago. I can’t even recall his name now. He claimed to have a masters degree in poetry — and though his claim struck me as dubious, he certainly knew poetry. He certainly was a poet himself.

    I don’t know where he was from — I doubt he ever said. But he showed up one day at the coffee shop. A month or so later, someone put together a poetry reading. It was quite lame. No one knew how to sound out their poems for an audience.

    He came away determined to do better, and he did. He put together his own reading in an old Victorian house. No electric lights, dozens of candles. And he’d auditioned the poets beforehand. He’d coached them through it. The reading was beautiful, beyond anything expected.

    I knew this much about him. He was on parole from prison, having been sentenced for heroin. Part of his parole was to be available for random drug tests.

    After a few months, he failed one, knew he was going back. And so he took a needle to his chest — right above his heart — and injected a lethal dose.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you, Paul. I’m pleased that my poem came out the way I intended. I wanted to pay tribute to Di. I said there was nothing I could have done for her, but I could have given her warmth. I wanted to, but as the mother of two children in recovery I’m trying to distance myself from the addicts in this town. As it turns out, I’d feel less regret if I had given her my attention.

      The treatment of addicts in Portugal has shown the benefits of decriminalisation. I suspect the refusal of our countries to follow suit is a planned act of aggression.

      It’s terrible to see so many lives lost through this illness.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Very sad to be put in a position to know that one has “to evade the pain of intimacy” and feeling helpless to enact change in someone’s desperate life. Being a witness can have a heavy toll on the heart. 😦

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I feel compelled to add: Some of our prisons here are privately owned, for-profit corporations. They spend millions lobbying the state and federal governments to keep drugs illegal, to stiffen the penalties for them.

    A man or woman can get five years or longer for just one joint. Whole communities have been decimated — a full third of the adults have done time.

    I met a young man in his twenties just out on parole. His 14 year old nephew had brought a single joint home, hid it in his bedroom. The SWAT team somehow got wind of it, broke the door down, found the joint. The man was sentence to five years because he was the responsible adult. Lucky the boy got off with nothing at all.

    There has been corruption, judges getting kickbacks for sending juveniles away for years. One judge in New Jersey or Pennsylvania was convicted of it — he’d sentenced over 2,000 kids before they caught him. The kids were never released.

    As of a few years ago, the prisons here in Colorado were raking in $35,000 per inmate per year. The inmates plausibly complain the food is spoiled, medical treatment is seldom more than a couple aspirins no matter what the injury or illness, and so forth, but nothing is done about it. Addicts, after all, they only get what they deserve, right?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Your news sent a chill through me. It reads like a crazy idea dreamed up by a novelist. I had no idea that was such extreme corruption was happening in parts of the U.S.

      I’m left wondering once again what it means to be human.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. This poem tore something out of me that I’d tried not to feel.

      I’ve been thinking about the nature of compassion, and I’m not sure whether it’s a matter of choice, or if it’s innate…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow…. that was incredible.
    I have a relative who went from a glamorous career to destitution and every kind of degredation due to his heroine addiction.
    This week for the first time in years we received a letter from him saying how much he regrets his decisions and that he loves us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you.

      It’s possible that the letter signifies a step toward recovery. It sounds to me like a huge hug might be in order. My son is in recovery, and he needs a lot of love.

      Here’s hoping…

      Here’s hoping…

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Ivor. This is the second tragedy to send ripples my way in less than two weeks. The previous one was a murder. These days, tragedy very quickly becomes yesterday’s news. That’s not intended to sound harsh; it’s just that I’m constantly pulled into the dramas of others. As I said, it’s ripples. They are not my losses, but it makes me sad.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I know this loss, although he was no stranger on the street. Not homeless either. Your words are beautiful and I thank you for the grace and respect you’ve shown for this beautiful soul.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. wow the tragic impact, the turmoil triggered within, the hopelessness and helplessness on both sides of the street!
    … I feel it deep as this is a subject that impacts your loved ones with it’s harsh vacant disregard for life … 😦
    Glad yours are safe tonight … but how to help these others!


  7. the sadness is in the reality that this exists. to say I like this seems dehumanising, but you have the gift to translate the feelings into words with such brutal honesty, thank you for writing this, made me think about my actions.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I knew her too and her friend emailed me to find out if I knew more but we were only connected on WordPress and her passing left an emptiness for quite a few of us. Yes you wrote that with clarity and from the heart.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I don’t think any of us realise, when we join WP, what good friends we will make here. This is the modern equivalent of pen pals. We get to know each other from the inside out, but when one passes we don’t have the final farewell of a funeral where we share memories and laugh through our tears.. All we have is an empty space. It’s hard.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. yes modern day pen pals, I have always loved long form writing and detailing my thoughts. and the people I have met have always been so lovely and generous and inspiring. Di was one of them. That final farewell as you mention id the closure we are missing from our lives from this instant online connection. I wish there was a way to navigate that better. Be well and have a lovely weekend,

            Liked by 1 person

  8. How convicted I stand after reading this. I’m like that, too.I w on’t give anyone money, but I’ll go buy them a Big Mac from McDonald’s. Though I suppose that’s just another way to kill them more slowly — hardening of the arteries…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Few of the street sleepers in this town appreciate food. I’ve seen a couple of them sling such offerings at the feet of donors. One young man used to growl “Don’t give me food; I want money.” He died, aged 19. If he hadn’t obtained the money he wanted he might be alive today.

      Liked by 1 person

Thank you for dropping by. If you have any thoughts, questions, treats or cures, you're welcome to drop them in the comment box.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.