January poem: To Sleep…

It’s cold in Chicago. The kind of cold that freezes your sinuses when you breathe deeply through your nose. Cold enough that the Chicago Public Schools are closed today. As I’ve walked through the city with the hood of my down parka pulled up around my head, the number of people who spend their days – and their nights – on the streets has haunted me.

There’s the man who sits at the corner of State and Randolph with a sign that says “2 ugly 2 prostitute”. The bald kid who can usually be found near the bridges that cross from the Loop into the trendy River North neighborhood. “Kemo. Too sick to work. Please help.” There’s a girl near the doors of Macy’s, next to a Christmas window where Santa sits in his sleigh checking names off his “Nice” list. A little grey cat pokes it’s head out from under her coat, sniffing the air. She strokes his nose and shakes her cup. Sometimes I walk past so many people holding signs that they blend into one another in an overwhelming swirl. Homeless. Unemployed. Veteran. Hungry. Family. Help. God Bless.

This month’s poem is a reflection on some of the people I’ve noticed this week, as the weather has gotten colder, and their survival more precarious.

To sleep…

How do you sleep there,
cozied up to the concrete
under your cardboard sheets
with the chocolate coated wind blowing across your face?
Do you dream of Mercedes and Lexus?
Of screaming sirens?
Or do your dreams float you away,
back to when you squinted into the sun
as a baseball thudded into your leather glove?
Long before you held a sign
that described your life in three words.

How do you sleep there,
wrapped in trash bags
under windows that were filled with diamonds and pearls
just a few hours ago?
Does that hood, pulled tight around your face
keep your ears warm?
Or do you touch them with your fingers every morning to make sure they’re still there,
before you roll up your home
and take your seat outside Walgreens?
Shaking the change in your plastic cup,
inviting people to add to your music.

How do you sleep there,
in the train that rumbles so loudly
beneath the window of my bedroom?
I’ve thought of you in the tea shop, asking me if I come here often.
“It’s cold,” you said.
“And they’re letting me be.
I’ll sleep on the train again tonight.
It’s cold there too.”
And every time that train passes,
I wonder if you’re asleep.
Because I’m not.

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