I’ve seen him at all hours in every weather,
lately bent over, lugging a duffel bag:
stocky, robust-looking white guy,
graying greased-back hair, trim salt-and-pepper beard.
Sometimes he’s puffing on a cheap briar pipe
and holds another one, unlit, clutched in his other hand.
He carries a whole collection of them — their bowls
poke from all four pockets of his jeans.
Before he got the duffel bag, he wore a Boy Scout pack
overstuffed with what I thought at first
were rags he gathered on his rounds.
So I named him The Ragman. Then one day
I saw him pull a sweater out and put it on, realizing then
what I should have known: that’s his wardrobe he lugs around.
At one time I wished he had a little dog
to traipse along on his endless hikes.
Seeing him in yellow slicker and cap,
oblivious to the rain on a cold day in March,
I took my wish back.
About an hour ago — 2 a.m. — just off from work —
I saw him seated at attention
on a bench in front of Tompkins County Trust.
I don’t think he really saw me
walking briskly across his blank gaze.
What with the root-smell of spring strong
on this first warm night in months,
I had the urge to greet him, maybe stop and chat.
I feared he might get scared and slink away, or worse,
seize my face with his crazy eyes and spill out his distress.
At a safely shadowed distance, I hurried past
and still caught the germ of his loneliness.