From the top floor, hugging the wall’s brick face,
the fire escape runs down the building.
Your eye follows each dropped staircase,
bumping to a stop at each landing
like a metal ball rolling down a maze.

Your gaze has almost reached the street,
lingering on the last jackknifed ladder
then dropping to the sidewalk at your feet.
When you hear the wooden-sounding clatter
you see a man wearing a blanket and a plastic sheet.

He scrapes the cement with a broken stick,
grinning madly at circles, squares and odd shapes
that he marks around a broken travel clock.
A blaring boombox, playing a classical tape,
is stuffed in his torn and patched knapsack.

Cities within cities have sprung up here:
cities of tents, wooden pallets, cardboard boxes.
The city lining the street is parked there:
wheeleless cars, fixed as paradoxes;
windowless shelters open to the air.

A woman stumbles out from a dark alley,
looking all around with wild eyes.
Her head jerks back and forth mechanically.
She bats away imaginary flies
and silently mouths, “Get away! Get away!”

You know the disease won’t spare their kind,
already made wretched by the city’s
calculated cruelty to body and mind.
You want to look away so as not to see
this fated misery staged in pantomime.

Roger Stoll lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and has published articles, book reviews and political poetry in Black Agenda Report, Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Internationalist 360, Jewschool, Marxism-Leninism Today, MintPress News, MRonline, New Verse News, Orinoco Tribune, Popular Resistance, Resumen Latinoamericano, San Francisco Examiner, and ZNet. Read other articles by Roger.