And the Stars Shine Like Dim Light Bulbs at the Old Motel Downtown

Photograph by Jose Padua
It was one of those evenings when
the social worker didn’t show up
and I had a waiting room full of
poor and homeless people needing
food or food stamps or money or
sometimes just cigarettes and it was
my job in high school answering the
phone and the door at the church rectory.
That’s when Mary Hayes came out of
the waiting room, walked down the hall
with the sort of grace that years on
the streets had done nothing to diminish,
then stood in front of me more annoyed
than scared and said in her precisely
annunciated Irish accent, “there’s a man
in there who keeps saying he’s going to
kill us,” and I walked in to see a man wearing
a soldier’s hat who kept looking down
to the rug and who wouldn’t lift his head
telling me, “I’m a man, you’re nothing.”
And it took a few minutes of telling him
he couldn’t threaten everyone else and
expect to get help but I got him to stand up,
his head still pointed down, and he made
his way to the door and out and down
the steps to the rest of the darkening city
and everyone in the room felt better again.
I split whatever dollar bills and change I had
on me with Mr. Thomas Jefferson Isaac
and Rose Conti and Rabbi Jerome Diamond
and all my poor homeless friends even though
what I was supposed to do when the social
worker was AWOL was just tell them to come
back the next day. And right before she left
Mary Hayes after having seen me on so many
days in the past year asked me for the first time,
“And what is your name?” and I told her my
name proudly and I annunciated precisely
just as she did whenever she spoke just to
make sure she’d understand and because
her asking my name after all this time
was like being told that yes there are stars
in the sky and even though they are dim
and don’t shine for us it is by their light
that sometimes with a little luck and a little
persistence we get where we’re going anyway.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

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