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“Clothe the Naked”

Read this poem titled "Clothe the Naked" about the speaker's encounter with the homeless on a street side.

“Clothe the Naked”

I try not to stare.
Your vulnerability makes me
vulnerable.
Your nakedness reminds me
that under my dress,
matching bra and panties,
is a body I try to hide,
a body of secrets.

You scrub the bar over your chest,
suds trickle over ribs,
the fire hydrant spraying water
for your makeshift shower,
five feet from my car.

I am both intruder
and victim,
exposed
and in the shower
with you –
I want to help you,
wash you clean,
yet your nakedness
makes me
uncomfortable
as if I too am naked
on edge of the E Street Expressway.

I want to leave my car,
hold up a blanket,
shield you from eyes, trying
not to see—

Am I shielding you?
Or am I shielding us?

Our bodies uncomfortable
with our own nakedness,
staring at buildings, screens,
the bumper in front of us
willing the red to green—

so once you fade into distance
we can forget
you live in tents
under the E Street Expressway—
forget
you bathe with water
siphoned from a fire hydrant,
forget
you are a person.

We, your brothers and sisters,
deny our own body
as we deny
the existence
of you.

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