“The Stranger in the Storm is My Brother”

“The Stranger in the Storm is My Brother”

Is it failing eyes or conscience

since we seem not to see how

Rodney stands alone exposed

to torrential rain in wind

teeming masses hurry past

umbrellas clash like swords

downcast heads dwell on where

to go as they ignore the plaintive plea

I AM HUNGRY says its sign in letters

bright and bold the apathy of others

should always leave us cold

that no one stops is hard to see

it keeps Rodney in the depths of anonymity

will no one spare a dime or time

with compassion if not love

how many in the crowd claim they’re

pious or devout pray to God on Sunday

but worship Mammon now

To me the diner window as if a museum's

gilded frame when I glanced right across the

side street revealed Rodney's striking sight

neither Monet's Garden at Givenchy

nor Pissarro’s Montmartre Boulevard

match the majesty of Rodney’s steadfast

stance in showers as he righteously upholds

his right to live to thrive as you or I or anyone

among commuters passing by

the Good Samaritan's heart and eyes were open

and Jesus bore the cross they'd show mercy in a blizzard

all faiths tell such tales

I have to go the waiter’s told my

partner understands as New York's 17th and 6th

becomes the Jericho Road

pulling Jacksons from my pocket I dash and splash

dodge skidding bikes and cars to

soak with Rodney in the deluge

where I ask his and say my name

reaching for my brother’s hand to get him out of rain

nourished with a hot meal safely warm and dry

I say this not as self-praise what I did was small

I just wonder why on earth we won't share enough for all

we boast of freedom but from shackled minds

corporate titans live in splendor as their bottom lines

balloon with fifteen bucks an hour for those who shine their shoes

or serve the lunch too much elected leaders say

they’ve made us mighty with our missiles

we have four hundred five to point at nations overseas

but I fear more than China or the Russians

how we treat the least of these

let’s save lives instead of killing with the thirty

million dollars that a single missile costs

so many people languish in distress in sunshine snow or rain

how wise we'd be to help them it would

build community

in all the coastal cities and our heartland towns

if we’d wake up from our sitcoms and commercials

ignore the talking heads

a nation with the know-how to reach the Moon and Mars

could allocate some housing and create some jobs while

feeding all the people at all the corners missed

amid the office towers where aluminum and glass

shield those who push the hedge funds while they

try to build a brand

as Rodney stands alone in rain beware his fate could

come your way because life has no guarantee

would you not want someone to stop

then go to see him now before the anonymous Americans

who with us live a lie stare at your soul each morning

from the mirror while you brush hair or knot a tie

will your eyes stay open with your conscience clear as

you travel on the daily trail that takes you where you go

will loving kindness guide you to help Rodney

and his mythic kin if someone’s boldly lettered sign

or merely empty hand declare a personal emergency

will you make the stranger welcome as a friend

with genuine concern and generosity to embrace at last

that love grows from compassion and the sharing of resources

that even in the lockdown have been enough for all

Poet's Note

Rodney haunts me. I saw him through a diner window at Manhattan's 17th Street and Sixth Avenue. He had no umbrella but his upheld sign said "I AM HUNGRY." He stood alone in rain. Commuters hurtled past. I joined him, asked his name and helped with money for a hot meal somewhere warm and dry. It was a common encounter but his urging to "keep on being a free person" prods reflections on how we live with lies about our values in this polarized pandemic era when the nation's top-heavy wealth is kept by the few or squandered on the arsenals of endless wars. This poem honors Rodney and his mythic kin on all our corners. It calls us to open eyes and clear the conscience to become more humane.

About the Author

Michael McQuillan

Michael McQuillan is a former US Senate aide, Peace Corps Volunteer, and history teacher for 19 years. He also chaired the NYPD Training Advisory Council’s Race Subcommittee in the aftermath of the killing of Eric Garner. The Write Launch has published Mike’s poetry and Creative Nonfiction.