I wrote this poem in 2002 while sitting in a coffee shop in New Delhi, India. I had just had an experience with a child beggar late at night. It was soul-opening and I think of her so often.

The Girl

Tonight, I saw a beggar girl
with a sucker in her mouth, showing
that someone’s been kind to her before—
her standing there, straggly hair
alone;
no shirt, no shoes,
a necklace, smiling, a belly button
pointing toward me.
I said, “Namaste” and she smiled.
We counted ten on her toes
and she laughed
with no worries with me there
alone
in the world of sandaled feet and covered knees,
of fast food and hagglers,
hocking their worst like it’s their finest.
I rise to go away from her
and my knees crackle,
and she asks for food and I deliberate our
place in Delhi and her place in the world.

I write this with chocolate on my tongue
and coffee on my breath.
I lift up my head and put down my pen.
I see my right-handed writing in the window
in front of me, everything is backward upon reflection
I see her.
I think of men, of plans for war, of
monsoon floods, and the Japanese Yen.
I think of the hagglers, hookers,
and her.
She matches grin to grin, face to face,
fingers against glass—nothing very thick
separating us but this.
And the doorman chases her away
with his apathetic intentions and his reckless stick
prodding, pushing and pillaging, and
she stands there as long as she can
waiting, wanting, willing—running

I can see but cannot hear her naked feet
slapping the dirtied marble sidewalk
like a Kathak dancer, like a hurried
deer in the half-light of this
dark, dark place.
And I say to her as I look through myself,
as she gets smaller and smaller and
the night larger and larger, as the
doorman hides from my view, repositioning
himself for the next great deflection,
“It was good knowing you, your missing teeth,
your missing parents, your vitality.”
I wrap my fingers around my pen and bow
my head again with chocolate on my tongue
and coffee on my breath
alone.

Copyright 2022, Jason Elder

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