by Michael Castro
Idle on a stone, unemployed,
He looks into the river . . . Narcissus
Of scrounge, fop of scruff, suit shiny
at elbow & butt, what creature stares up,
wizened & tight-lipped, out of the deep?
Having devoured the short ends of cigarettes
& the smoke of the soul, having walked through
the classifieds, “Full of jobs,”
says the President, “full of . . .”
having stood in the lines of the jobless multitudes,
having filled out the forms full of the routine questions
requiring routines for answers—Who are you? Who are you?
A man whose newspaper covers his head in the rain,
who traces the lines of his face in the mirror,
lines written by this tragic poetry;
a man who stoops over in a phone booth’s privacy
to count his change & cough,
who haunts the harsh streets, the hiring hall warehouses,
the coffee shops of oblivion.
Idle on a stone, unemployed.
Home is no longer home, as I am no longer I.
Who will offer the rag he needs to mop his brow?
Who will fill the cavity that aches his spirit?
What will the river say?
And what are
Three million years spent
Developing an opposable thumb, an upright posture.
A couple of million thinking, abstracting,
Hundreds of thousands traveling, learning, adapting
To arrive precisely here.
(Only a few thousand learning to write—
Don’t hold it against him.
He can dig ditches, push paper, build pyramids.
He has invented sources of lights, a certain smile,
a simple mirror.
Where will he go?
What will he do?
How will he fill out
His application? Can he
sign in under ‘Last Job,’
“helped a guy?”
Will he beg? Will he steal?
Or will he stay still, by the flowing river,
idle on a stone, unemployed?
Michael Castro is a poet, translator, arts activist and educator. Castro is co–founder of the literary organization and magazine River Styx and hosted the Poetry Beat radio show for fifteen years. He has been named one of St. Louis’s top fifty writers by the Missouri History Museum, has received the Guardian Angel of St. Louis Poetry Award from River Styx, and been named a Warrior Poet by Word in Motion, all for lifetime achievement. The St. Louis Post Dispatch has called him “a legend in St. Louis Poetry.” In 2015 he was named the first Poet Laureate of St. Louis.