Wednesday, August 24, 2011

3:16, in the afternoon

Many people know John, but few people see him.

He sits on the corner of Court and 8th, knowing better than trying Main. Too many others to trip over him. A few blocks down, in front of the courthouse, is not a good choice either, they keep it too clean. Yellow, creased with red fingers that carry a brown ball in the center, his eyes follow everything and nothing, bees collecting pollen to make honey.

Black roots fade to quicksilver in a snarling cloud around his head. He always wears flannel, regardless of the weather. Today it is grey and blue, with what used to be white, over industrial pants. Perhaps a uniform once, or just a good will quarter spent. He walk in holey Asics.

His fingers are long, thin tapers with cracked nails. He folds paper all day. Not the fancy paper you might find in a shop, he digs dumpsters in the cool evenings to find receipts and discarded scraps. Stuffs them in old grocery bags until they are ready to burst, then ties their handles together, a balloon bunch, he carries every morning to his corner.

To watch him is a thing of beauty, a ballerina lost in her movements. He is quick, knowing the next three steps before he takes the first. He folds and rolls each piece. Sometimes it is a box. Sometimes it is a flower. Often it is cranes. His hands redeem his findings and he leaves them in doorways and window ledges each afternoon on his way to find more.

I watch him from the chipped concrete stoop of the soup kitchen, where I sit wiping my face after lunch. Everyone has wandered off and the streets are calmly baking in the afternoon heat. A woman in a dress suit, briefcase in one hand, her kid's tiny hand in another,slowly saunter up the sidewalk. They are probably parked in one of the lots, maybe coming from the courthouse or some other business.

As they pass, the child, in her pretty little dress, stops as does he, then he holds out a paper flower. When she takes it, I hold my breath. Then, they are off, and the girl is swinging the delicate treasure by her side as she talks to her mom. Then gone. John goes right back to his bag, taking another scrap. He smooths it on the ground before him. This time it's another crane, on his way to a thousand.

Many people know John, but few people see him.

written for Imperfect Prose

72 comments:

lucychili said...

tangible

Jannie Funster said...

Wow! I love this, Brian. I imagine you on a bench with notepad in hand, watching the orphaned origamist and writing this -- or maybe your superbrain takes photos of the scenes which come flying out of your computer to us later?

Glad the child took the flower!

xo

Daniel said...

Another post from your watchful eyes and heart. Blessings.

Pat Hatt said...

Wow you sure catch it all
Really enjoyed this call
Most truly never do see
Too busy climbing their own tree
Nice that you took note
At least he is seen and now has one vote

Goofball said...

I fear the mom will not value the crane gift

flaubert said...

Heartbreaking tale, Brian. Well penned.

Pamela

missing moments said...

A great story of observation! Nicely done.

sheila said...

Very cool! Love it! Love the description of the eyes.

David Allen Waters said...

I love how you see the world, and then bring it to us here...awesome :)

hedgewitch said...

I don't know where you find the time to write these gems, brian. This is one that's exceptionally tight and well-crafted. Fine work, and I think you have hit your thousandth crane.

kaykuala said...

Moving story of a child lost in his own world. Happy for himself without a care. Hopefully the mother is happy with the gift also.

Titanium said...

Children somehow see all those things intangible and know without knowing. Amazingly, so do you.

Thanks for peeling back the layers and giving us a child's eye view into the magic of simplicity.

Fred said...

Brian, really enjoyed the piece. Definitely a fresh view, love what you did here. Just curious, the last lines, are you referring to Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata. If so just curious, as I can see a similarity in the limited relationship aspect where chance encounters can lead to messages of both joy and sorrow. Good book if you weren't making the reference.

Monkey Man said...

Sad story of the streets. Good for the mother not overacting to an innocent act of generosity.

TechnoBabe said...

Sharing a talent with others, passing out blessings that have been transformed from trash. What a concept.

Tara Miller said...

THis is beautiful and yet simple with many layers you always do so well, love. This gentleman sharing the Light and Love with a young child and her mother as only he can do. I see him spreading joy to others despite the circumstances in his life. Beautiful write...

Sue said...

Thanks for allowing us to see him so clearly.

=)

Heaven said...

I can imagine John sitting in the corner, rumaging thru the paper bag, and making cranes.

The paper flower is a nice touch, a symbol that giving joy or smile can be simple if it comes from the heart.

Thanks for sharing this ~

Kathy's Klothesline said...

trash to treasure, or treasure to trash? Do we value things more than lives?

Brian Miller said...

yes fred, that is one of a couple references i wove in to this one...there is signifigance in the title of the piece as well...

Bev said...

very poignant, well done brian...i can visualize it...

Rachel said...

This is more than reading.

This is seeing.

I can touch this.

Mama Zen said...

I'm glad that you see him, Brian. Powerful write.

Linda said...

Brian, how I love to see things through your compassionate eyes. You paint such vivid pictures with your words. How gifted and giving you are.

haikulovesongs said...

i think you are a magician, brian. not the kind on stage, but a true magician who can manipulate time. how else can you visit so many blogs AND comment? how else can you write such beautifully crafted pieces every day? thank you for sharing the world through your eyes and your voice. i love this piece! {smile}
dani

Pheromone Girl said...

Hmmm, I think I bought John a sandwich at lunch today.

Victoria said...

The way you wrote this, I was right there. I know him now and I can see him, thanks to your perfect description.

izzy said...

What a lovely piece! thanks for sharing-

Jen said...

what an inspiration to stop and see instead of being blinded by our own selves.

Christine said...

That last line, "on his way to a thousand" made me weep Brian. You've pulled my heartstrings again.

happygirl said...

You see. :)

DJan said...

Beautifully written, he came alive for me. Thank you, Brian.

emmettwheatfall.com said...

Another gem Brian. The patience with which you lay your narrative out is really good. You give us a synoptic view. A very powerful tale. Love your work man!

adeeyoyo said...

What a lovely way to recycle! Wonderful how children see thing so differently from adults' jaded eyes...

Eva Gallant said...

Your description of his eyes was so vivid, I could see them.

Amy Sullivan said...

Always a fan of your words, but this one touched me. Isn't that what we all want...even just a little, to be seen?

Ed Pilolla said...

whoa, beautiful. what a sweet end. you see him. terrific write. the roughest of scenes, the softest of creations.

lori said...

You are certainly packing an emotional punch lately. Every time I visit, I'm on the verge of tears, lol. Another beautiful piece, and I'm thankful that someone does see him :)

ayala said...

This is awesome...great write, Brian!

evavonpelt said...

Beautiful, Brian. I could see incredible detail through your words. Thanks or sharing your observations : ) -Eva

Ryan and Melanie said...

wow, that last line was so powerful. You write extremely well. I'm drawn into the story. And oh, my heart aches for John. How many times have I walked on by without really SEEING.

Thank you for sharing his story.

-Mel

Syd said...

There is a fellow like that in a nearby town who sells old magazines and other stuff at a corner. He has long dreads and wears a croaker sack as a skirt over ripped shorts. I once stopped to talk to him. He used to be a teacher but gave it up. Now he just sells his used magazines in a skirt made of hemp.

♥ Braja said...

Ain't that just so true about life in general....

owlmeetsfairy said...

You describe john so delicately. His yellow fingers that fold the paper art. And how you capture this moment with the girl and the flower. You are truly gifted Brian. My favourite imperfect prose.

sharplittlepencil said...

Brian, you see him. That's what counts. I congregate with a loose group of mental health consumers (my, aren't we PC today) and we trade stories of therapy and meds. It's like a book group, except we are the books. John sounds like he's a lot more together than folks on Wall Street. I'll say a prayer for him tonight. Peace, Amy
http://sharplittlepencil.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/twofer-haiku-heaven-sent/

Madhulika said...

sometimes you really meet such amazing people :) :)
Its really very sweet when someone gifts you something... I have often got flowers from many people.. :) Ita lovely..
and as usual.. you have written it beautifully... I felt sad at the end, i dont knoe why.. but loved it anyways :)

Zeba said...

Wow. WOW. Okay. This made me a little sad. Can't really put it to words. But oh so beautiful. Wow. And the child. Sigh.

Oh. The Offsprings!! I love some of their songs. They are quite funky. Were they great to travel with though?

Zuzana said...

Loved this. You captured a moment of simple, yet fleeting beauty in time. I know exactly what you mean with your last sentence; I feel this about so many things I encounter during a day. So many people miss out on unforgettable moments in almost each and every day because they are not sensitive enough to notice them.
Have a great day dear Brian,
xoxo

Valerie said...

If I was to walk up that street I would recognise the man who gave a child a flower. I hope the fashioning of the flower brought him a smidgen of happiness.

Lorraine said...

Outstanding and oh so touching!

That Janie Girl said...

How cool is this? I love it!!

Alan Burnett said...

A neat twist on the many people see but few people know line.

Heather said...

i always like how you write about real things - some of us see them....some don't - too self focused -

Lisa notes... said...

He walk in holey Asics.

I’m looking for John.

the walking man said...

There is safety in invisibility. It's when some one sees John that he will be in harms way.

joanna said...

love this little vignette, and the way you open and close with the same powerful line.

happy belated birthday, by the way!

Leslie said...

brian, this is beautiful. made me cry... i love that he gave the flower he had created to the child who could see him...

ipenka said...

Wow. Great perspective.

First comment as just got here and this was the second post I read. You definitely are an amazing writer and definitely set the bar high for yourself. Looking forward to reading more in the future.

Claudia said...

have read about the 1000 cranes at matt's place recently and just loved it...and love it even more that you write about it in combination with this man...glad the child took the flower...she seems to have seen him as well...one of these few...

Fred said...

Brian, wow, can't believe I missed that clue, especially that the guy's name is John. Thanks for mentioning it, piece takes on a whole new meaning to a much deeper layer. Best kind of references though, ones that are there, obvious yet elusive, kudos

Debbie.Dawnslight said...

Wow!!!! So moving. Your language, the details, the way you watch and describe him, giving him a place to be known, be seen - that is a beautiful thing!

emily wierenga said...

brilliant, brian... i know i tell you that all the time, but i LOVE how you take an all-too familiar verse and remind us that we don't truly know it... and how it takes a child to teach us. stunning.

I Live in an Antbed said...

Jesus would've seen him, too, as He walked along. Such a beautiful vision of a precious, beloved one of His Children.

Jill from Killeny Glen said...

We have a John here in our village. I adore him.

I love your John and his wonderful gifts given with such generosity.

Baino said...

Aw rather like this. Romantic view of the bagman but some just like the vagabond life. We have a guy in Sydney who's just been hauled in because he earns $120,000 on the streets. Go figure. If only they all did.

alittlebitograce said...

A treasure of a story.

Myrna R. said...

I'm glad you SEE John. Your writing just magnifies, for me, my connection to all humanity. I am so lucky to read you.

Sophia said...

Very well written and brings the message home to all of us. I wonder, now tell me, how many of us "know" John, but walk by him every single day....

Who Is Afraid Of Miss Lovett? No, Mrs.Lovett... said...

"3:16, in the afternoon" Many people know John, but few people see him.
Hi! Brian...
What an excellent write, what an excellent read too! [very descriptive, very sad, but very real and your writing as always is very vivid too!]

I too see the homeless...What can we do? Try not to give them a hand-out, but a helping hand. I'm so glad that the mother let the small child accept his "gift" to her daughter too!

Thanks, for sharing!
deedee ;-D

secret agent woman said...

Peace cranes! (And a gospel reference?)

Tina said...

"But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (John 20:31) You continue to showcase the humanity that most of society would rather just ignore. Thanks for that.
Tina @ Life is Good

Mona said...

when my husband went for business work to Bangkok for a few months, the housekeeper an old lady, made some miniature ( nail sized) origami birds of various kind and presented it to him. I still have them!