One of Your Ceramic Angels Fell from the Mantel, It’s in Pieces
In Philadelphia. I don’t normally carry a backpack, but today, practicality prevails, and my shoulder bag has been replaced by a maroon two-strap from an earlier decade. With it I am wearing a white dress shirt, green cotton pants with an unforgiving elastic waistband, wool socks, and Birkenstocks; the Birkenstocks better adjusted for a barefooted day. Thrift jean jacket I picked up for ten bucks back in Buffalo. I feel good. Look a little lost, a little tired, but I feel good.
You were also carrying a backpack. Sitting outside Reading Terminal Market barely making your shape out of the shade, just three or four feet into the sunshine of 9:15, which was the only time I could have ever seen you. I was looking at you for a long time before I realized what I was doing, which unnerved me, so I had to look away.
It wasn’t cold or warm outside, but I wanted to give you my jacket. I wanted to give you my jacket and half of my juice. I didn’t expect you to want any of this, but you looked like you needed it. I am sorry that I did not even ask.
I regret not offering you a cigarette. Normally I don’t smoke, but you happened at an unusual time, and so I have plenty of cigarettes. Do you like to smoke in the sun? A lot of people have said good things about it, it makes me sick, but you look like somebody who used to say those kinds of things and maybe you would have liked to sit there, smoking, and remember saying them. Maybe it would be nice to remember. Maybe it would not.
I had some soap in my bag, some books, some paper. I wish I would have given them to you. When I got back on the bus, I felt my paperback copy of Chelsea Girls poking into my shoulder from behind the heavy canvas, and I felt like I had stolen it from you. If I had given you these things—your sign said “God Bless”—maybe you would have said “God Bless” too, and I wouldn’t have known what to say, so I would’ve smiled and ambled sheepishly, defeated, back to my little group, and maybe they would think things that they would have whispered had I been a few more feet away with you, but you were sitting right by the door, and there they were, standing. Maybe they would say something, something about me and my cigarettes, but I wouldn’t have wanted to hear it, and I would have wished that they’d waited till later to bring it up when I wasn’t around.
You are beautiful. I bet you aren’t in the background of many photographs. I bet you were put in the front, because of the way I imagine you look when you smile, and I bet you didn’t want to, but I bet you smiled anyhow, and I bet that they loved you. Sitting there, with your sleepy hands folded into one another, you looked incredibly lovable, and maybe I got carried away, but I couldn’t stop picturing you wrapped up in soft green sheets somewhere like Portland, where I would someday like to live and have someone like you living with me, whatever that means.
I saw you, today. I just wanted to let you know. I saw you sitting outside Reading Terminal Market, sitting under the overpass that I thought was really an overpass but now, looking at a map, it is only a building. We were wearing the same clothes; you were wearing them better. Grey chinos that reminded me of nothing, black boots that looked factory-issued, except I don’t think factories issue boots anymore, and besides, I don’t want to picture you in a factory. You are too beautiful. You are nude-sketch beautiful.
I will pass back through Philadelphia tomorrow. I want to say I’ll look for you, but probably I won’t have time. In that case, have a drink of water and try not to concentrate on whatever it is that you used to be. None of that matters. All of that matters, I mean, but none of that can matter now, which I wish I had been told years ago, and I am only seventeen. You looked, by my guess, something like forty, so maybe without knowing it, you are wishing the same thing now.