At a Fountain

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At a Fountain


Off an avenue, in a corner park,
a fountain features two seals
made of cement and small white stones.
As big as the seals on rocks in the bay
offshore of San Francisco, far away,
the smooth, cement-flippered seals
spout into a wading pool,
in flashing arcs that sizzle on the pool.

On park benches under the trees
nearby, weakened, apparently
homeless men have gathered.
One old man fiddles
with coffee cups and plastic bags,
talking to himself.
Another slowly paces, scratching his arm.
A dirty, heavy man sprawls on a bench
and thin ones huddle in sleep
with burnt faces, touched
with exhaustion and exposure.
Other young men, who look clean
and new to the outdoors, each
sleep alone in the shade.

Two men wrestle into the wading pool.
other in the spray,
and they both get soaked.
“There!” the bearded one says,
spanking the captive on his jeans.
“I’m sorry!” laughs the victim,
waving his hands above his bandanna
as he prances from the water.
They walk back to their group,
a raffish band, who look like hippies,
ex-convicts, unemployed alcoholics,
welfare mothers and glum, young women
who nurse their last beers
at the chess tables.

Soon the old man with plastic bags
and cardboard cups speaks out, loudly,
against people who don’t work
and nuclear war planning
and people who come to the park
without recognizing that he lives there,
people who pretend he’s not there,
like the one with the book.

Homeowners come,
tall, professional men
with dogs and cameras.
The old man stoppeth one,
to talk about where to buy shoes.
After some more talk about politics,
he tires and gets quiet.

Soon a young mother comes
into the quiet. She encourages
her toddler to walk
all the way around the wading pool.
The boy picks his way to a tree.
The kid takes off.
His mother calls to wait, and
she follows the child who wanders
through sad and sleeping giants.

In the same savage, sylvan spell,
I wander in sadness out of the trees.


But in the mist of an evening
in the City, in spring,
a black storm coming
on cool winds, I return
to the fountain.

The old man who muttered and raged
flees, bent over double
with the weight of two
blue plastic bags, as he scurries.
I wonder what shelter he goes to.

I pull from the wading pool
three pieces of litter,
a coffee cup, a stick and a cellophane bag,
by walking three times into the fountain.
Each time, the spray and the rain thicken.
i feel the pure dance
of water bounding off concrete.
The seals take part in the world
situation, wetness, downpour.

The people who live in the park
talk beneath the thickest trees.
They murmur and sing at their table.
As the rain quickens, their voices rise.

A thundercloud breaking on a crowd
of homeless people is my story,
but I run away from looking
for wisdom in such a sorry group.
I settle for love, with distaste,
at a distance.
I wanted the fountain and flee the storm.