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When I go out, I usually have an agenda that usually takes priority over the strangers I’m walking past. Occasionally there’s an exception, though. This poem describes a time I put my agenda aside and made connection.

A young man sat cross-legged on the sidewalk,
not looking up, playing his guitar, 
the only sign that he was panhandling was a sign:
“Homeless traveler, please help.”

I passed him easily the first time 
and went beyond two steps when coming back
before becoming gum-footed.
I had a few spare dollars and a few spare minutes,
so why not offer both? I turned around.

We talked a bit.
He was passing through, 
he liked the town but found it hard 
to be among the homeless here,
so he was leaving soon. 

Then he volleyed this:
“Would you like to hear a poem?”
He had been writing one about the friends
that heroin had stolen. I said yes,
so he flipped a battered notebook open. 

I remember words of sorrow, pain, and anger,
but most of all determination to express all this.
There must be many more like him—
heads down but eager to be heard.

I thanked him and he smiled, 
glued his palms together, 
and bent down in a bow.