I see them all over

I see them all over
Floating on the concrete and asphalt
Of city streets
Like abandoned boats
Unmoored and adrift
In an unwelcoming ocean

They carry hand-painted signs
“Anything helps”
“Will work for food”
“Need gas money”
“Kids are hungry”
And I always give a little
Knowing that my bit of charity
May buy them a cheap sandwich
A soda
A bag of chips
But what it really accomplishes
Is making me feel less uncomfortable
While the recipient
Remains immersed
In the misery our society has created
For great numbers of the ones
Who cannot help but realize
They are expendable

Sometimes there is a mother
Holding an infant
And sitting on the sidewalk
Outside the supermarket
With a sign that says
“My baby needs to eat”
And after handing her a few dollars
I walk away clenching my fists
In a rage
At this smug and self-satisfied America
That still pretends and pretends and pretends
As more and more people
Sink out of our sight
Still pretends that we are the promised land
The shining city on the hill
The land of equality and justice
The land of opportunity for all
The land where no child
Is left behind

Sometimes there is a disabled veteran
In rumpled, greasy clothes
And a tattered militarly beret
Clinging to his wheelchair
At a stop light
Whose sign reads simply
“Help! Please!”
And I want to grab us all by the collar
And shake us hard
And shout at us
“Hypocrites! Sending our young men
Off to our wars of hegemony
Our wars of domination
Our wars for a plutocrat’s wet dream
Of empire
Calling those young volunteers patriots
Calling them defenders of America
Sending them off to kill and die
So the corpulent class
Can grow fatter
And what do we do when they return home
Crippled, broken, sick in body and mind?
We discard them like
Like so many empty bottles and cans.”

Fathers and mothers who cannot find work
That will pay enough to support their kids.
Families that have no medical insurance
So do not seek necessary treatment.
Children who must skip meals
Because Mom and Dad can only find
Intermittent work
And our enlightened Congress
Has eliminated funds
For free school lunches
(But continues to spend billions
On war)

I see them all over
The ragged people
The bewildered people
The harried and the hopeless people
The damaged the defeated
The mangled and maimed

Drifting in an acrid sea of despair
And I am angry
And I am ashamed

Buff Whitman-Bradley’s newest book is And What Will We Sing? a collection of protest and social justice poems spanning the last 25 years. He podcasts at thirdactpoems.podbean.com and lives with his wife, Cynthia, in northern California. Read other articles by Buff.