To Frank.

I usually talk fashion on Wednesdays, but my camera has just died, so instead I’ll post about a man named Frank.

This is Frank. I took this picture earlier in the year, but you get the point.
This is Frank. I took this picture earlier in the year, but you get the point.

Frank lives on the sidewalk by my office building.

He usually lives in boxes and under trash bags, and I know this and occasionally pass him on my way to and from work. Today I passed a man under a variety of tarps and blankets, assumed it was Frank, said good morning and walked past.

At lunch I walked down the street and passed the same pile of man-and-possessions again but worried a bit. I thought about calling the police so they could check on him, but further down the road I saw the actual Frank.

“Oh hi, Frank!” I said, “I saw that man back there and thought it was you. I was worried because I know you’re usually up by now.”

And he lifted his hand to a wave, nodded a quick nod, and looked out at me from the corner of his eye, which is what he always does.

I think that Frank can talk. I think this because my coworkers say he can, but I’ve never heard him say a word. I think he recognizes my face because he’ll return my waves when he sees me. One time I yelled at a man who was yelling at Frank, and I like to think that Frank remembers this and thinks I’m a safe person.

I’ve heard stories, though, that Frank isn’t very safe and that he can get worked up and aggressive when he’s angry. Because of this I don’t hand him money like my coworkers do, I just say hi when I see him. I’m not sure this is the right thing (see yesterday’s St. Martin of Tours), but it’s what I do.

From what I’ve observed, Frank likes things to be in his own form of simple order. If he sees something that’s shiny or colorful on the drab pavement, he’ll pick it up and drop it down the sewer. I’ve watched him do this over and over again…pick things up, throw them down the sewer, pick something else up, throw it down the sewer as well.

Last week there was local TV special about the frigid weather we had last week, and how police and emergency crews were rounding up people off of the street to take them to shelters or offering them more blankets. They showed a quick clip of offering a man something, and I think it was Frank (my coworker called to report that he was outside and to ask if something could be done).

Frank (if it was Frank) refused to get inside the car, but accepted the blanket. The thing is, it seems like Frank is very wary of people. He also seems very simple, so I can see why he would refuse help from strangers.

It’s still sad, though, this simple, wary man spending nights outside in the cold.

Once in college I read this poem by Dudley Randall, a Detroit-poet. It was on display in the hall in a frame. After I found it I would walk by frequently and reread it.

Today I thought I’d share it…for Frank.

Bag Woman
(For Jane Hale Morgan)
By Dudley Randall

Wearing an overcoat in August heat,
Shawls and scarves, a torn and dirty dress,
Newspaper shoes, she squats in the Greyhound terminal
And rummages through two bags, her lifetime treasure.
She mines waste baskets for her food and clothes,
Forages in the streets with sparrows, pigeons–
Isolate, with fewer friends than beggars have–
Another stray cat or abandoned dog,
She sleeps where cats and dogs sleep, in the streets.

Sister, once did you suck your mother’s milk,
And laugh as she fondled you? Did Daddy
Call you his Dumpling, Baby Girl, his Princess?
And did you flirt with him, bending your head,
And, giggling, kiss his eyes through your long lashes?
Did some boy love you once, and hold you tight,
And hotly know you through a summer night?

Or were you gang-raped, violated early,
And from that trauma drifted down to this?
Or, born defective, abandoned to the streets?

Sister, I do not know. But I know that I am you.
I tough your rags, clasp your dumb eyes.
Talk with you, and drink your fetid breath.

[1980]


For the record, I asked the other man, the one under the blankets and boxes, if he was alright and he told me he was. So, I left him to rest.

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