Kathy Engel is a poet who has founded and directed social justice and human rights organizations, and worked in the nexus between art and social change as a communications/strategic/creative consultant and producer, for more than 35 years. She is Chair and Associate Arts Professor in the Art and Public Policy Program at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts. “Now I Pray” appeared in Poetry magazine earlier this year.
Ashen face, wool hat bobbing,
the young boy’s eyes dart to me,
then up at the man pulling a rolling
suitcase, whose hand he holds,
then back at me. His legs move
as if without gravity. The man asks:
Do you know a church on this street
that serves free food? I want to say
I know. That the names of churches
on an Avenue called Americas roll
out of me. I want to tell you
it is temporary, their condition:
suitcase, darting eyes, seeking free
food at 9 pm in a big city on a school night.
I want to tell you I don’t for a moment
wonder if that is really the boy’s father
or uncle or legitimate caretaker —
something in the handholding and
eyes, having watched too many
episodes of Law and Order. I want
to tell you I take them to a restaurant
and pay for a warm meal or empty
my wallet not worrying how
offensive that might be because
in the end hunger is hunger.
I want to tell you I call someone
who loves them — that there is someone —
and say your guys are lost, can
you come? I want to tell you I sit
down on the sidewalk at the corner
of Waverly and pray — that all
passing by, anonymous shoes
marking the pavement, join
in a chorus of prayer humming
like cicadas in the Delta. I want to
tell you the boy and the man eat food
encircled by the warmth of bodies.
I want to turn the cold night into a feast.
I will tell you I am praying.