Starving Down Madiba Lane

By four o’clock you see them on the walk

in Sunnyside and Greenpoint

And know them by their excess of attire

The manner of their chatter and their talk

The falsehood of the laughter in their voice

The hungry pain in haunting, hollow eyes

Their frankly sexual outward provocation

A sour sweetness, reeking of their lies.


By four AM they’re on the street again

Or gone to satisfy some random lust

That crossed their path some time in the night

Two lives caught out in empty freedom’s blight

Each starving for the thing the other brings

To trade on terms that squander dignity–– 

That most subtle and elusive promised right––

‘til rising, each leaves poorer from their deal.

In this, at least, they are in one sad measure, equal.

At noon they can be seen in muscled cars

Cruising with a loud, dull, vapid beat

Among the walking victims of their trade

Pretentious masters of their too small world

Lords over those they have enslaved

By selling freedom from the harsh realities

Of desperation and untransform-ed lives.

Picking pockets clean while numbing minds

Careless of the ever mounting crimes

And body count required to fuel 

Their sordid little empire of the blind.

He walks along a line of drivers waiting for the green

Looking for some small consideration.

Lacking skills, he lives by wits and cunning

Offering for his livelihood nothing but a plea

And some small measure of absolution to a guilty soul.

His scribbled sign and outstretched hand

The only reasonable measure yet devised

To secure to him the solemn promised right

Of decent access to his basic needs

And the dignity he’s only ever known 

By its being denied to him - or neglected - 

 By those impatient to increase their own.

At 5 PM round back the other side

You catch them slipping past with tinted glass 

From heavily defended bunkered jobs––

Those with a beneficial interest in the security 

They’ve built to cocoon their transformed lives.

Their auto locks snap quietly in place, they glide along

Passing their cousins, their erstwhile comrades, 

Their disinherited offspring of a political affair

That gave to one an office and a street to bear his name

And to the other, the right to trade or starve upon her lover’s lane.

They change some names and call it transformation

The heroes of this day inscribed in stone, sculpture, airport, street and town ––

While heroes of another day are easily torn down–– 

And they imagine this time is forever.

But on the streets, and in the parks and hills

The tide of restless, static, lives grows desperate still ––

Still hurt, still lost, still empty, homeless, begging

Still  trading their bodies, drugging their minds

Insensate to the joy they are supposed to feel

That the street on which they starve is named for a hero of the people.

 © Philip Knight 2018