Posted in Prose, Strangers

A message to the sidewalk sleeper that he will never hear

When I woke this morning, I heard you fighting across the street with Cleopatra in the vacant lot that you both regularly inhabit.
A Wednesday morning turf war.

We started calling her Cleopatra when we moved in last year.
Every night I would hear her from the vacant lot, screaming the most pearl-clutching Afrikaans profanities at phantom companions.
I would count the number of times she would shriek “Jou ma se….####!” until I could finally fall asleep.

She became Cleopatra because I wanted to frame her with some dignity, wanted to have something to refer to her as—something regal, aspirational— a powerful moniker for the broken soul who would take sponge baths in the morning sun as I walked my dog past her through the lot.

And now there’s you.
You’ve replaced Cleopatra, at least for now.
You also scream at phantom companions.
And I’ve taken to worrying for you, too.
But I haven’t given you a name.

I know I cannot speak with you,
cannot ask you how you came to take up a slumbered, temporary residence on the sidewalk at lunchtime.
My mind categorizes you as a volatile liability, a potential danger—one that activates my mother’s pleading voice in the better parts of my sensibilities, begging me not to engage.

I cannot speak with you because I just want to help you.
I want to know you.
I want to see you be healed,
see your lucidity restored.

God doesn’t make mistakes.
But I know love alone cannot repair you now.
Love cannot write you a prescription for anti-psychotics,
cannot give you four walls and a warm bed,
cannot reintroduce you as a contributing member of society.
But I can still love you anyway, stranger who sleeps on the sidewalk.

I can still love you without needing to fix you.
A few years ago I had not learned this lesson.
I thought the world was mine to fix.
You, sleeping stranger, are my brother of humanity.
Knowing this does not make me my brother’s keeper.

I look for you.
I think of you.
I wrote this for you.
But you are not mine to fix.


Stories of travels, of tribulations, and of learning to tell the difference.

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