Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Passing through

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

I wrote this poem after driving through a section of the city that I don't normally pass through.

Red Light, Full Stop

Red light, full stop,
we're just passing through
making our way to the highway,
the streets are bereft of children
mid-morning on this school day,
but full of adults,
in clusters up and down the block,
seemingly idle,
wandering into the road,
oblivious to crosswalks and walk lights.
A young woman rushes out of a convenience store,
clutching packs of cigarettes,
running through the intersection,
zig-zagging in front of our car and
around oncoming traffic.
So many people milling about,
feels like a road version of pinball, and
deeply sad.
Red light, full stop,
so much trash and debris in the street and
along the sidewalks,
metal bars on windows and doors,
tiny stores with unfamiliar names,
broken windows and half curtains in the homes above,
boarded up windows and rolled-down metal doors,
marked with graffiti,
signs of other businesses long gone.
Two disheveled men
pants slung low, jackets frayed, matted hair,
a wobbly, jellied-leg third man between them,
who looks like he will fall over at any moment.
A low, loud, melodic bass beat pulsates from the car in the lane next to us.
Red light, full stop,
a police vehicle with lights blinking,
stopped just ahead on side of road,
no sign of the police themselves...
perhaps inside the pawn shop next door.
A bench at a bus stop,
a woman strewn across a man's lap,
belly fat exposed,
her eyes rolled up in her head;
she has passed out.
His one arm cradles her, supporting her head,
the other pats her, soothingly, tenderly, and
he whispers something we can't hear.
A man approaches our car with a bucket of soap suds,
wanting to wash our windshield;
we know not to meet his eyes.
Red light, full stop

people are living this way,
this is their neighborhood,
their home,
all day,
every day.
Everything and everyone seems
so far removed from
so far removed from
all decisions being made
or any debate being had
by anyone anywhere
with any semblance of power.
This is desolation.
Unless we happen to search for a shortcut
to the highway
in an unfamiliar part of town,
and are just
passing through.

Green light, go,
move on.


  1. The images here make me sad, but a poem does not promise comfort and privilege. Your poem today certainly reminds me that w/in a short distance of any home in any city we find those whose lives are much harder than our own. The repetition of “Red light, full stop” begs us to notice, implores us to care. The image of the woman across the lap for some reason feels especially tragic to me.

    Maureen, I’d love to see you join Sarah Donovan’s poetry challenge in March. I think you’d love our small, tight community of writers. Sarah has details on her website, EthicalELA.com

  2. I really appreciate your thoughtful comment! Thank you! I will look into Sarah Donovan's poetry challenge...that sounds very exciting.

  3. It's amazing what we can notice even when we're just passing through.