"Refusal" - Mark Bromberg




"No, I don't need any help," Jimmie said,
after he sat up a minute later 
on the sidewalk in 98-degree heat.

He drank warm Coke and ate a peanut butter sandwich 
I made from my groceries. 
He'd asked for a cigarette and fainted, a ghost weight

into my arms. When was the last time he ate?
He told me he didn't remember: 
"I just need to get back to Augusta." 

We were waiting for the Number 5 bus
one hundred feet from the door of St. Mary's; 
on his wrist a V.A. hospital band hung loose from the bone.

He refused help when the cops arrived, too.
Very slowly Jimmie pulled out an I.D., 
showed the cops a few dollars from his wallet. 

Some folks go on living
until the sun burns a hole in the sky.
Some refuse the help of a stranger,

without simple luck or the offer of a sandwich
to pull them back from the edge. Some
get hypnotized by drugs, a bottle, life itself, 

and dance right into the fire. 

You learn to ask after each other. A week later,
the bus rider on the Number 7 Hawthorne 
sees the empty seat,

asks the innocent question
of a familiar face. They'll answer carefully,
afraid of saying too much,

afraid what may happen to them too. "Oh, Jimmie,
he just went on ahead a bit," they say,
and the rider is never quite sure

if Jimmie made one refusal too many,
or if he made it back to Augusta in time
to become less of a ghost. 

You can expect to see him again
at the next stop, at the next stop, 
at the next stop,

or maybe never. 

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