I open the door. Help me. Poor words. A woman asks
for water. Because of her importunate look, I give
her as much as she needs. I will not put out the
outcast. I will not shut the door. She is worth more
than ten thousand sparrows.
Yes, even when I was poor, I gave to the poor. Even
when I was ill, I cared for the sick—even when I was
sick of love, with patience, I knelt and prayed.
ii The earth is the Lord's and all its furniture
The homeless woman comes to my door and asks for
a glass of water. My greatest weakness lies in pity.
But I understand. Behold, I consecrate and dedicate
my will to her will; I let her in. And she drops into a
chair. Spider veins abuse her legs, and I am walking
here with water. Now, I give her the glass.
Glance at her clothes. Use has beaten them bare.
There are threads of meaning and potential here that
we can’t quite understand.
iii Help me. I have given too much. Too late, I try to
conceal myself and wait for her to leave.
Help me to my feet. She takes my hand and carefully
rises from the chair. I think, I think and reach down
and wait. The frail body shakes.
Too often, wretchedness goes unnoticed. Beauty is
seldom seen in pity. Beauty is seldom enough.
Christ beautifully humbled himself to the point of
death on a cross.
iv To escape the crushing crowd, she comes to the well.
But, no matter where you go or what you do,
you can’t outrun your thoughts.
Look what I found, she cries then bends and picks a
penny from the carpet of our apartment.
(You could say that she is gone.)
Call her the daughter of King Saul.
The madness between the two comes from the Lord
my god look at her spotted, ropy hands; the eyelid
entombed in its hood or those deep lines around her
mouth, her marionette’s jaw.
v When the homeless woman came to my apartment
I was tired and needed rest
The woman without a house stands in my doorway
and imagines herself inside. Ripe carpet fills the air
I am living in a tomb, but to her, this is something
To see it all-together, is there a greater wound?
I have furrows of intellectuality, folds between the
eyes and loosening jowls. I need some heavy help
with my self-esteem and slow belief; I don’t feel old
but I have a human face. Permit me to imitate the
drink that she longs for.
Carry me away.
Bruce Alford teaches poetry at Louisiana State University. He was an inner-city missionary before winning a fellowship to the University of Alabama. His debut collection, Terminal Switching, was published in 2007 by Elk River Review Press.