The Potomac - Poetry and Politics
December 2006 - THE POTOMAC

John Doe # 694
   Lisa Berberian

     On a busy street in Northwest Washington you have to get to work. YouemptytheovercrowdedmetrocarsorroarontotheroadinanSUVthenscurrytofindaparking spaceinyourcompanyslot. No one, including you, has enough time for superfluous details, except for maybe the obligatory change-your-sneakers-into-heels routine which many a woman in a white collar setting performs. Or a stop of the local Starbucks, or maybe the Starbucks three blocks from that Starbucks, or the Starbucks that is on K Street, not too far from that Starbucks.
     While you may develop a shallow friendship with the people on your Metro route, and occasionally an acquaintance may transform into a deep friendship, or a one- night stand after work, oftentimes, you do not become transfixed by your fellow Metro riders and the ongoing tragicomedy of their lives. After all, you have your goals set, and your goal is to get to work in a timely manner, perform your job, and leave for your home. Sometimes, this routine is given variety and texture if one must pick up their child from day care or go to a drive through to get dinner. Yes, such a rush, such a pursuit for money, such a pursuit of occupational fulfillment, often leads many a details to go astray.
     No one, let alone you, notices a certain middle aged man. He is probably about fifty-five, although he looks sixty-five, with a grey stubble over his dark brown skin, and several missing teeth. He has a wool stocking cap of navy blue over his head, probably to keep his head warm. His nails have a thick coating of soot underneath them. His jeans, button-down shirt, the kind a carpenter or construction workers would wear, are ripped and reeking form a lack of wash. He’s the sort of man most people either ignore, give a few dollars to, or reply to with a simple “I don’t have enough money today, sir,” which we all know is a lie. But why would anyone want to give him any money? What’s the point? he might just spend it on whiskey. But who knows what his story is. Is he even an alcoholic or drug addict? Is he mentally ill? Is he a Vietnam Veteran (he certainly looks to be the appropriate age)? Is he from a poor family to begin with? You do not care. No one cares.
     No one cares as he lethargically closes his eyes, lets out a few pathetic grunts of pain under his breath, and then all…breathing…stops…
     But the world doesn’t stop. Not for a smelly bum. In fact, to the average onlooker, including yourself, this man appears to be merely sleeping.
     Mostpeopleincludingyougototheirofficesforworkinthemorningandmaybeleavetheofficemi dwaythroughthedaytogotoAuBonPanforaquicklunchbreakiftheyareluckyandeitherwaysom etonelikeyouheadsbackhomearoundfourtosix. On the weekends or on federal holidays, tourists and local culture vultures alike (much like yourself), head to the museums, while others head to a favorite watering hole to socialize with friends, and perhaps get laid, especially in a pleasant part of Northwest such as this. Well, it would be pleasant were it not for the disgusting aroma you recognize wafting in the air on a certain block. The smell is not only distracting, it smells like the lowest depths of hell, it smells like hatred and violence and greed and anger and sorrow all rolled into a solitary odor. That is until one police officer finally decides to touch the man with a gloved hand. She checks his pulse, to see if this man is breathing. The cop subsequently performs a stereotypical maneuver, as she blows her whistle, and tells you and the rest of the gawking crowd that “this is not a show,” and to clear the immediate area as police tape will be placed around this man’s “ territory,” daintily swirling and swaying where he once stood or slept or god- know-what-else-he-did.
     He was buried as John Doe # 694 in Washington’s “Pauper’s Cemetery,” especially since he died sans a driver’s license or social security card. No one came to his burial since no one knew who he was, and no one at the hospital had the ability to track down amotherafatherabrotherasisterafriend. He was born into this world from the dust, and he returned to dust.

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