to greet him
as he stands without purpose
outside a corner bodega.
He gives his standard:
"I haven't seen you."
I give mine:
"I've been working."
Pulling my pack
from the plaid pocket
above my heart
I pass him a smoke.
He reaches for it
with unwashed hands
the dirt under his fingernails
a different type entirely.
It's not the job debris
I'm accustomed to scrubbing
or paint from a local drinkslinger's daytime endeavors.
It's the accumulation of time spent
sipping from bagged cans on sidewalks
and sleeping on benches
while tourists take photos of the buildings
that the homeless population can't enter.
I shake his hand
despite the hundreds of times
he's used it to hold himself in alleyways
since his last gas station sink bath
splashing like a day-drunk bird
in grandmother's backyard garden.
"This is harsh," he says
inhaling the clove cigarillo far too deeply.
"You get used to it,"
I tell an expert on wear and tear
who's aged without grace
in a city of fools for the wounded.
I leave the intersection
and forget all about that bearded apparition
as soon as I place my order from the stool.
You can only owe someone
for so long.