Joseph E Bird

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He is severely disabled.

It’s obvious just from watching him for a few minutes.

His walk looks painful.  He knees come together in an angle that is not in the least bit natural. He stops, and then one of his knees moves out in the opposite direction, poking sideways through his filthy trousers.

He’s picking up something in the parking lot.  A stray coin, maybe?  A valuable scrap of  something.  He moves on, slowly.  Near a light pole, he stops and puts his collection on top of the concrete base of the light pole.  Some he tosses back onto the parking lot.

I’ve seen him around town before.  One Sunday he just walked out in the middle of traffic to cross the street.  His disability is not only physical, it’s mental.

We’re in line at KFC.  Yes, we eat there a lot.  Good chicken.

This particular KFC is not in the affluent part of town.  Not that there is an affluent part of my town.  But it’s near the homeless shelter.  Near St. Mark’s where lunches are provided to those in need.  Near the bridges, where some choose to make their homes.

Should we buy him something to eat? my wife asks.

I don’t know. 

I didn’t know if he would take it.  Didn’t know if he would just cuss us.  Didn’t even know if he really needed it.

We place our order. Just for us.

At the window, we ask if they know anything about the guy wandering the parking lot.

That’s John, she says.  We give him something to eat every day.

She asks us to pull up while our order is prepared.

John’s off to the side of us now, emptying his pockets on the sidewalk.  Just stuff.  Rocks.  Dirt.  Who knows what.

She brings our food.

John, are you ready to eat?

He nods.  He mills around a bit before they go inside.

One other time I was inside at this store and there was an older gentleman with a cane.  He was not as bad off as John.  Seemed like he had all his faculties, as they say, but life had not been generous to him.  The manager asked what he wanted.  A cola, he answered.  He reached in his pocket for some change.  The manager waved him off.

Don’t worry about it.

The folks working at this KFC are probably making minimum wage, maybe a little more.  They don’t have a lot of money to spare.  And the store itself is probably working on razor-thin margins. Giving away food is not in their best interests.

And yet they do.

Let others fight about borders and immigration and gun control and geopolitics.

Our neighbor is in need.

Our neighbor needs something to eat.

You can call me Jim.

There are people I have known for years – no, make that decades – who have trouble remembering my name.  ”Hi, Bob,” someone will say.  No, Bob’s my uncle.  Or “Hey, Rob, are you back in town?” Well, you’re thinking of my cousin who lives in Florida. I’m Joe. I’ve been here all along.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called Jim. Yeah, Jim is close to Joe and it’s an understandable mistake for someone I don’t see very often. But time and time again I have to re-introduce myself to the same person who thinks they’ve never met me.

You could take the old Nat King Cole classic, Unforgettable, and change it to So Forgettable, that’s who I am.

I’m a quiet guy in person. I don’t stand out. I used to imagine that my laconic nature would be perceived as brooding and mysterious. But no, just boring.

I’m not very outgoing. I used to watch the way my mother could talk to anyone and have them laughing within minutes. Why couldn’t I be more like her? I’m better than I used to be, but I can’t help but to fall back into my loner tendencies.

I’m not one to shout about my beliefs and political leanings. I think such things are complex and multi-layered and don’t lend themselves to slogans or sound bites. If you want to have a long, serious conversation, I’m in. But of course, ain’t nobody got time for that.

I write stories. You like them? Cool. Not getting it? That’s ok.

I write poems. Dig the rhymes? Groovy. Free verse not you thing? NBD.

I write novels. Well, the truth here is that it seems that I’m the only one who gets something out of them.  That’s ok, too.

We all want to be known and appreciated. We want to know that our lives, our work, our being here, is meaningful in some way.

We cross paths with hundreds, probably thousands of people in our lifetimes. Some we know, some we don’t even catch their names. Some we see face to face, some we only see what they’ve done.

There’s a painting hanging on the wall of the pizzeria in South Hills by an artist whose name will never be known outside of her family. For a moment, it takes me to a different world, one that I wouldn’t know without her painting.

A fiddle player plays a mournful solo, for the moment upstaging the star, only to step back from the spotlight and return the glory to the charismatic singer.

An old man, who stops and looks inside every dumpster and eats at the church kitchens, whose clothes are dirty, nonetheless walks with dignity and greets you with a warm smile and an unashamed hello, and gives hope, that despite our circumstances, we can show love and respect.

So you can call me Jim. Maybe you’ll remember me, maybe you won’t. And maybe something I do will make a difference to someone.








keep walkin

i’m not dead    i don’t think i’m ded    my head is killing me    if i were dead there be fire    but i’m wet    water everywhere

thirsty hungry

damn sun hurts my eyes    i must have slept all night    got to get up

what the hell is this thing    heavy    can’t push it    dumpster    its a dumpster

its not the sun in my eyes    streetlight    railroad tracks    must be behind the stores

gotta get some    gotta score

legs are stiff    got to go to jimmers    just one hit    then i get my hed together    do a score of my own    steeal some cash    neeed cassh

dumpster smells sweet    like food    yeh haf a donut    burger bag    maybe some fries    dammit

jimmers is a long way

its rainin a little    ok    just walk, red    you be ok    just walk

people ever where    pay no mind red    i must be somethin    they look at me and scared of me    i aint hurtin nobody    i aint taking you money    not now    better be out here than in the jail    i score out heer

somethin on my hand    its covered in wire    cant get it off    im wrappin the wrong way    get off!    other way    no other way    get off!

someone blowin a horn    guy in a truck    he looks mad    waving at me    the horn blows    up yurs i tell him    get outta you truck and i beat you good    yeh    i didnt think so

keep walkin red    just keep walkin

rain comin down real good    so wet    cold    keep walkin red

road is black and wet and shiny    cigarette butts    i hate that people be so inconsiderate

where am i    the bridge    shelters down the road a piece    maybe get som ssoup

Hey, Red. You ain’t lookin so good.

weeble    weefle    weasel    weasel, got any smack

I don’t do that stuff, Red. I give you a drink, though.

whats this    it aint taste like nuthin

Vodka. Take it easy. I said a drink, not the whole bottle.

thanks weasel    they got food down there

They won’t let you in looking like that.

im going to jimmers

No you ain’t. Jimmer done got hisself killed.

jimmers dead

Yeah, man. Got into it with one his dope heads. No offense.

i need a score

You ain’t gettin it from Jimmer. You get outta this rain, Red. Go on down under the bridge. They’ll have a fire going tonight.

i need a score

Damn, Red. You gonna be dead yourself if you don’t slow down.


Take my bottle. It’ll get you through the night. I’ll get more.

thanks weasel

Get down there, now.

weasels all right    straight up dude    i hate the bridge    all them weirdos    but i gotta get dry    all this rain    all this rain    all this rain

copyright joseph e bird, 2016

The Bench

Sit, he says,

on this bench beside me.

It’s been months.

I thought he might be dead.

He’s the kind of person whose

death would go unnoticed.

He smells of liquor, I think.

Maybe I’m wrong.

How are you?

Not very good.

He’s never very good.

He’s had a hard life.

This much is true.

Brought on by

his own poor decisions?



A couple of dollars

is all he needs,

all he ever asks for.

Sometimes I give more.

He’s got to get out of his apartment.

It’s his third one since I’ve known him.

Always looking for a better place.

A better life.

He is ragged, blood-shot eyes

As he wanders the streets.

I’ll see him at church.

He says he wants to go more.

It’s just hard, you know.

Got to catch a bus.

Too cold, too hot, too far.

He’s always bedraggled,

Always tired,

Always worn out.

But he keeps going.


In his shoes, I would fail.

But he doesn’t.

He keeps going.

How much better is my life.

How much more I have.

How easy I have it.

I hand him three dollars.

He thanks me.

Promises to try to get to church.

Thanks me again.

And he goes.

copyright 2015, Joseph E Bird

A Sunday Meeting

I saw him then, that look of dread
Though months before I thought him dead.
His gate unsure and out of sync,
A scrape of red across his head.

He stepped too close, I did not blink.
His breath was sweet from heavy drink.
And though he looked as if quite mad,
He was a gentle man, I think.

Two bills he knew I always had.
His needs were slight, his wants were sad.
Someone to see his soul was right;
Though rough and worn, he was not bad.

In church, he said, he’d be that night,
As if a debt were owed to rite.
He walked away, his thanks polite,
My guilt and conscience to indict.

Coyright Joseph E Bird, 2014

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