Between the Lines

On the Intersection of 355 and Middlebrook Ave.

Dung beetles roll with that swing,
rocking on their allotment of specialized limbs,
these for capture, those to clench,
as if locomotion were only a secondary thought.
Some wait for their prey,
some chase and claw.

I don’t blame him for snatching up
my five dollar bill like that.
Enough good has already slipped his grasp
and scuttled the coast of his desert isle
to slap on the side of a moving van or cab.
And he isn’t mean enough to utter a single shit,
but scrapes a living out of gratefulness.
There are worse ways to live.

Shot down like them he might
have been paid off with a pair
of high tech titanium legs and feet
built to dance a salsa and compete in marathons.
But a nation has no thanks for bad luck.
He’s on his own with an empty Starbuck’s cup.
(A venti, I think.)

And on his stumps? Well,
two sanded logs painted an ugly flesh
like a glossy marionette’s.
He’s half Pinocchio, half real boy,
as if an incompetent or out and out cruel blue fairy
hadn’t finished what should have been a routine job.

I can’t help wondering
how much he pulls in on a good day,
or if he isn’t working for some beggar pimp
who drops him off and picks him up
for a cut of the take.  Or if he drinks up
my alms.  Doesn’t the Koran
caution against questioning the mendicant.

But there I go,
letting myself sink into sentiment.
We’ve been warned off writing about the poor,
the destitute, the diseased.  Let St. Francis
kiss the leper and write middling poetry.
Ours to remain exact and detached,
to note this kind in passing,
like a postcard of Whistler’s mother
on a revolving wire rack,
moribund, flat, and abstract.

When the sheep get cut from the goats,
when all is said and done,
where will all these bums belong, whom
the sheep embraced and the goats blew off with a crumb,
who did not act so much as were acted on?
Probably with scabby Lazarus on a cut-rate cloud,
where they can’t and won’t complain,
and, by divine decree,
are forbidden to give a drop to the damned.


William Derge’s poems have appeared in Negative Capability, The Bridge, Artful Dodge, Bellingham Review, and numerous other publications.  He is the winner of the 2010 Knightsbridge Prize judged by Donald Hall and was a nominee for a Pushcart Prize. William is the recipient of a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council