Knowing when, knowing why, knowing who

A friend posted, You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.  I don’t know what prompted his comment.  Sitting in my kitchen, drinking tea, I felt a pang of sorrow through the social medium on which he uttered the pronouncement.  His words bespoke of powerlessness, of disconnection, of futility.

Perhaps my friend spoke from none of those realms.  Possibly he only meant that he had tried to show someone how to balance their checkbook; maybe he had given someone a computer program to enhance their daily existence and the thing lay idle on their desktop.  But I don’t think so.  Knowing my friend, even as little as I know him, I heard an echo of despair.

I replied, telling him that I drag his book of poetry over the seven seas tucked in my handbag. I balance it on window sills, on my knee, on the saucer as I drink my tea.  I read and re-read; I commune with the population of his world.  I told him so. I don’t know when I could have ever gotten the chance to thank him. I don’t know why he uttered those soft words into the virtual realm.  I don’t know who turned their back on his attempts to offer direction.

I know so little.  I guess so much.  Yet I long to honor my connection with him.  I see the pain lingering in the crinkles around his eyes when we chance upon one another from time to time.  He folds me in a warm embrace.  He tells me that it’s good to see me.  Then he backs away and wanders in another direction.  I can’t help thinking that he’s had a life of pain punctuated by the occasional saving grace.  He voices few complaints; the mild lament which I read today surprised me.  So this is for him — for his caring, his concern.  Whether his comment gave voice to something casual or catastrophic, I salute him.

Prompted by my friend’s encouragement, I walk to the water and drink.

It’s the fifth day of the forty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


You’re damn right I believe in angels.
I saw two of them down by the river
at shift change last Thursday.
They’d stepped back between the buildings
to keep the cold rain off their wings,
I guess.
They were talking and
I heard one say
Sally’s back on crack.
I saw her light the pipe last night.
down at Third and Central.
Then the other one said
Yeah, tell me about it;
I’ve been looking over Bobbie’s shoulder
for the last three days
while he studied his reflection
in razor blades.
Last night it was all I could do to stop him.
Then they nodded,
gave each other a low five
and headed off in opposite directions.
After they left, I stood awhile
looking down on the tracks
at a long train of box cars sliding past.
All along the sides, there were messages
written in that impossible angelic script they use
to communicate with angels in other towns.
After it moved on out of sight
I looked over at the alley wall.
There were more messages written there
In that same strange language.
Everybody says they’re gang signs.
Yeah, but ain’t no gangsta
can tell you what they mean.

Angels, David Arnold Hughes,
from Born a Stranger, Poems by David Arnold Hughes, Spartan Press

© David Arnold Hughes 2017



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