the couple at the bottom of the world

They’d signed on for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health,

Though they’d never dreamed that poor and sick

Would arrive with such ferocity, such vengeance, such utter malice.

Difficult to say how they found their way down to this particular section of down:

Too poor, too little toleration for three R’s, too much for two-buck chuck,

The whys, wherefores, and timelines don’t matter much

When you’re falling ass-over-teacup Jack-and-Jill style down life’s hill.

They’d tumbled far enough to be holed up

On the ancient remnants of something akin to sofas

In the front room of a structure approximating a house down on Elizabeth Street,

Though it looked more like a Home Sweet Home a six-year old might draw,

Stairs, doorways, and window casings all uneven and madly impressionist,

The place not particularly successful at being air or water-tight

(If the folks from animal welfare found a dog in the place,

They’d be likely to go in and get it somewhere safe.)

They are huddled under what sheets and afghans

The nuns from Saint Rose were able to cobble together for them

And so they lay there, all but unable to move

(Though if he groans and thrashes enough to bare arms and legs,

She will summon something from somewhere

And painfully shuffle over to him to retrieve and re-arrange his covering)

Nowhere to go, no one to go see or to come see them,

Little left to do but wait for God

(Closer to Jordan than the Hudson, far as rivers go he is wont to say)

To belatedly disburse some mercy,

Divine or otherwise, then have them pine-boxed and potter’s-fielded.

They have never see fit to ask any why-thems—little time to do so, perhaps,

Or maybe the questions and answers simply more of a burden

Than the already over-burdened can bear, or maybe it’s as she said

To one of the nuns who comes now and then to do what little they can,

Lord reveals things to us in a whisper, and an angry stomach and shiverin’ bones

Conspire to make such a woeful noise.


(This piece leans heavily—indeed, you can almost hear it groan under the strain—on an article by William Kennedy titled “Requiem for a Lady at the Bottom of the World.” The article first appeared in The Times-Union (Albany, NY) and later in the collection Riding the Yellow Trolley Car.)





5 thoughts on “the couple at the bottom of the world

    1. It’s interesting you lead with “(w)ithout pity”–I think if you evoke pity in a poem, you’ve probably gone a little far into emotionality. I think empathy in a poem is usually a good thing (and I suspect I’ve come up short here), but you risk getting into the saccharrine if you go much beyond that.

  1. I’m sorry (for myself) that it took me so long to read this one (working backwards from yesterday.) It occurs to me while reading this that it just may be that the only place the poor, the lonely and the (otherwise) forgotten can hope for any respect, or remembrance, is in art like this.
    Fine work, as always,

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