- Yearning for Human Touchby Theodore McDowell
This work has reached the exceptional level
A memory from the street
Yearning for Human Touch by Theodore McDowell
Poem of the Month contest entry
Artwork by cleo85 at

Alleyways inhale fog,
mist crawls down Auburn Street,
haze compresses skyline,
a sorrow pressing, suffocating, collapsing
the lungs of hope.
The shelter’s full, he’s on the move,
calluses and newspapers for shoes,
driven by a tenacious primitive hunger
to devour the dense darkness of the street,
to commit to his insanity, to become
an angry shadow cursed with a past.
A dumpster scavenger,
savage starvation claws into his dreams,
hard-crusted bread and chicken bones.
Soul ravenous for the image of God,
touch reduced, confined to concrete,
glass, steel, nostalgia for flesh of a woman,
her fingers playing him soft and sweet,
a piano concerto breezing over skin.
Streetlamps glow in gloom, expand into dim halos,
evoking martyrs of his past:
mom’s bent twisted fingers,
whittled by cancer to bone,
clutch sweat-stained sheets,
claw at veins on his wrists,
cold skin of a woman down the hall,
needle dangling from a vein,
sweat still beading on her forehead,
a son’s firm handshake
on his way out the door before the accident.
All of it, a yearning for flesh, for human touch.   
In the opaque fog, sound becomes sight,
Miss Mary sings a childhood melody from the old country,
haunting, repetitive, insanely bittersweet,
rocks on her wooden crate outside the boarded-up theater,
a sax beat swaggers with customers out the door of a local bar,
Blind Willie’s shopping cart rattles toward a drug corner,
primal screams, spontaneous, unrestrained,
erupt with violent release and urgent warnings,
ambulances shriek toward hospitals, leaving
blood somewhere on Boulevard.
Thick clouds, the eyelids of God, close over stars,
peace of unbelief, leaving a blind God behind,
no groping for comfort in marble cathedrals,
no organs hanging over altars like the ribs of God,
no booming notes crying out below the words: It is finished.
His story is trapped in a fifth of Jack,
the moth larvae at the bottom of a tequila bottle,
flotsam washed up in a madhouse on the top of a hill
in Milledgeville, windows glowing at night, a lighthouse
for the sane driving by for kicks on a Friday night.
He’s written love notes to the Magdalene from a suicide ward,
stood on the ledge of the Bay Street Bridge,
lost six teeth in a scrap with a bouncer, biceps the size of grapefruits,
gone down to the crossroads, fell on his knees,
wishing Robert Johnson would play the Delta blues
with a guitar borrowed from the devil himself.
One day he was born again, a church tent revival.
The preacher thumped his forehead with the Holy Spirit,
electrified, he fell to his knees, wishing
God was made of flesh. Ten days later,
he consumed the Spirit
to survive another day on the street.
A scrap of newspaper, yesterday’s news,
scuttles, writhes past his feet,
pushed, shoved, manhandled by the wind
His pain and sadness are found in the prelude,
the touch of flesh, the piano concertos,
the martyr’s halos, the smile in a yearbook,
the A on a paper, the slide into home plate,
the first date, the first kiss,
Jeanie May in the back seat of a gold Pinto (nostalgia for flesh),
before the madness, the love notes written from a madhouse,
trying to find meaning at the bottom of the bottle of Jack,
before the blindness of God,
before his lungs collapse into a whisper, it is finished.




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