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I saw him as I drove by—
I don't have to tell you what he looked like—
spreading out a plastic sheet
as for a picnic
except he wasn't picnicking;
he was lying down to sleep
in the middle of the sidewalk
in the middle of the day
on a busy street,
the spoils of him lying there
for everyone to gawk at
or step around.
And when I drove by later
the same day, and then again still later
late that night,
he was still there, sleeping,
and maybe I slowed down
to check on him or got him at least a blanket,
or called an ambulance,
but whatever I did or didn't do
I did it to forget that
either way
he was the one asleep on the sidewalk,
I was the one borne along in the car
that might as well have been a chariot
of empathy, a chariot
the crowd cheers
even as it weeps
for the captured elephant too wide
to squeeze through
the triumphal arch
and draw home
to bed my sweet
sensitive Caesar of a soul.

Alan Shapiro

Night of the Republic
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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