At six a.m. the slanting light
Throws wild shadows on the grass before
Our house. Within these shades I see
The figure of a man, one hand
Quick sifting through the trash bin by
The street, a thin glove hiding weathered skin.
I wonder why his actions get beneath my skin
So easily, as he turns a soda can beneath the streetlight
As if he were a jeweler with a standard he must study by.
Two hours gone, this daily round, and still another four
Of trawling through what residents would hand
Him accidently in their overflow. I want to see
What makes him flout the stringent policy
Of local government, his thievery akin,
They say, to petty theft. And all to hand
A sack of old aluminum to men who slight
His very being, except to tolerate him for
The metal cans they love to buy.
Two hundred years ago, my ancestors traveled by
The call of providence across a troubled sea
To find this land which metaphor
Described as paradise. And by the skin
And sinew of their being, they turned their plight
Of landless refugees into an upper hand
Where they could prosper and then hand
A goodly heritage to their offspring; by
Generation finding their delight
In making this a land where all can see
Prosperity, no matter what the color of their skin
Or what their family was or did before
They came here. But now I worry for
This spectral scavenger, his one hand
Busy at its task, his frame of skin
And bones slow swaying to a lullaby
Of half-remembered hope, telling his misery
The yankee dream might still take flight.
I fear the fragile skin of righteousness – the beacon of “four
Score and twenty” – is a light fast fading in our hand
We former immigrants who now sit by, leaving only refuse for our latest kin who cross the sea.