The Narrow Path: A Tone Poem for Christmas

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You are alone.

You are back in the city and you are alone as you emerge into the open and empty space, stepping out from the stale depths of the subway. The city has been blessed with snow and the air is heavy, like your thoughts. An austere chill holds sway as daylight succumbs to impatient evening.

You walk down the blank sidewalk, deflecting the grins and grimaces of commuters as they hurry by, delayed waves of anxious motion. The city is alive all around you: in the circular maze of windows and their electrical language, brightening as the sky darkens; in the cabs that hustle past, mocking pedestrians with warm exhalations of spent energy; in the stench of steam rising from sewage drains, escaping sullied rivers that flow in underground tunnels, teeming beneath the gray and black city; and suddenly in the misshapen face of the man who approaches you, eyes twitching an implicit message (Help me, Help me! HELP ME!) and you pause until he slinks back into shadows, head shaking the answer he always gets (No, No! NO!). Your eyes guide you forward, eager to escape this squalid spectable.

Piles of steaming garbage smolder in neglected piles, suffocating beneath the sullen snow. Stepping awkwardly you slip and fall to one knee, genuflecting in the silky slush. Impossibly, you feel the cluster of sunken bags moving beside you and glancing down you see eyes (for a second you see yourself in those tired eyes). A distinct scent settles in the clumsy shift of air –one you instinctively recognize– and you scramble away. Your breath bursts in short white clouds that live and die simultaneously but the smell clings to you, assailing your nostrils. You understand what this signifies and you are ashamed.

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Damp clouds hang low in a disappearing sky: there will be more snow. And the wind, previously a child is now an aged man who coughs in your face, his bile a chill that grips your entire being: gusting and swirling at your feet, working its way up, over and around you, through you. Moving on slowly you curse this city and its wretched reality, a reality you will not escape from. Wishing warm thoughts, you close your eyes to think of the sun and somehow

you recall another city in another time and how frightened you were as you traveled, alone, through the hostile marketplace and the mass of humanity, an ocean upon the sand; there was no comfort in that prehistoric city: you were almost swallowed up by the groundswell of sallow, sneering faces and there was no refuge, even in the sanctuary –no solace in that holy place. And the molten sun soaked your skin, its heat causing you to look away, to look down and in looking you saw and in seeing you were saved because suddenly you were not alone: no longer was your path solitary because he walked with you and his stride was purposeful and deliberate, and you felt him brush against you as he moved ahead, so you fell behind him and

you find yourself directly behind him, a few paces behind the man, unable to overtake him because the snow has been packed down by other pedestrians. You walk together, silhouettes in the swaying mist. Thoughts awaken in your mind, congealing as the chill numbs your face. You watch the wind blow back the long hair that masks the figure whose shadow falls in front of you, and you realize that the brunt of the winter blast is being borne by this disheveled scarecrow come to life, strangely out of place in the frigid city. Yet he’s somehow familiar with his hunched shoulders and humble gait: looking down you see the scarecrow wears broken boots; his bared soles scrape the soiled ground. You ponder his pain, the imploding agony of this brutal scenario playing itself out in front of you as you live and breathe, once again in the city, so you close your eyes and suddenly the snow is sand and

you remember the narrow path you once traveled as the stranger walked beside you –and on that mild evening he carried his sandals in his hands and the sand was warm underneath, each grain alive between your toes– and this stranger, with his serenity and silence, reminded you of the one you knew before; the one who walked among you, always in front of you, and even then you followed him into the city: he was known by the people there and they threw flowers at his feet and smiled and you believed when the water turned sweet and red and your mind swam, growing tranquil and light. It was easy to believe, then, while you watched the cup overflow and the crimson drops fell to the ground not unlike tears and

then the sand is snow and the red is there, somehow the red is still there. Eyes down you see the darkened snow, trailing a steady stream from the open sole of the scarecrow.

You are left alone, again, as he moves silently onward, unrecognized, into the cold corners of the city.

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