One arm

Standing at the railway station,

A man with a long beard and only one arm came up to me.

“Don’t I know you?” he said.

“I don’t think so,” I answered.

I sat down on a bench, and the man sat next to me.

We didn’t speak, but he seemed to think there was some connection between us.

“The feeling I like best in the world,” he said, leaning toward me as he spoke,

“Is to get really dirty. I mean covered in dirt until your hair goes wiry,

And your skin goes white and brown from dirt, and then to wait for a really cold night,

And have a hot shower. I just love to see the dirt run off the skin,

I love the feeling of getting clean.

Do you know what I mean?”

I didn’t answer him. But I knew what he meant. I like that feeling too.

The man smelled bad, like a urine soaked mattress.

“Do you know where there are any showers around here?” he asked.

“The service station has some, in the truck stop. About five blocks toward the bridge.”

The man nodded and smiled. “Do I need to write that down?” he asked.

“No, it’s just over there.” I pointed toward the bridge.

“Hey, do those showers cost anything?”

“I think they’re free.”

“Hey, I just want to thank you for being a good friend.”

I didn’t say anything, but I laughed.

“No, seriously. You’ve been so good. I’ve been through a lot in my life.

My wife left me for her boss; my daughter is on drugs,

I ain’t eaten well for a long time

And I’ve got this pain in my legs that won’t go away.

It really means a lot to me that you are kind.

Could you lend me five bucks?”

I looked at the guy. He had red sores on his face,

His eyes were narrow and close to each other

His beard was white as cheap paint

But around his scabby mouth

The hair was brown like mud.

I had seen him before.

When I was in high school, I had seen him picking up bottles around town

The bottles could be returned for the deposit.

He had two arms then.

I took five dollars out of my pocket and held it out,

Then took it away.

“How’d you lose your arm?” I asked him.

He looked at my hand with the money in it; he looked hungry.

“I used to fix motors for the city, the big motors that keep the water pressure up in the city.

One day I’m fixing one and I got my arm right up in the tube

And some jerk turns the power on

And it rips my arm right off.

I got blood spraying up the wall, and I’m screaming; they rush me to the hospital.

The doctors ask where my arm is

And no one knows

So they just sew up the socket, and that’s that.

They never found my arm.
It’s still in the water pipes.

It’s in the tubes that supply this city’s drinking water.

My arms rotting in those tubes

And everyone is drinking that water,

So, a part of me is in everyone,

You’re all drinking me.

I looked at the thin man and the empty space at his right shoulder,

His red and white checker shirt sleeve pinned to his chest,

“Everyone is drinking me,” he repeated.

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