The guy sitting alone on the back porch
in Romulus, Michigan, is out of work
and out of money. I might say
he’s hiding there, sitting out back
drinking a glass of nothing, a glass
gone dry, so his neighbors won’t see
and won’t feel sorry for him, won’t say
the poor guy is just sitting on his ass
because he has nothing better to do.
He has nothing better to do. If you
think he’s waiting for the bars to open,
the poolroom, the park, the gateway
to hell, the street corner, the barber shop,
you’ve seen too many movies. He’s waiting
for nothing, not even his ship
to come in or his wife to go out.
He’s exercising his right of free speech
in the morning air, a free man, six feet
above the shallow earth in a clean shirt
silent in summer on a rented porch.
Philip Levine’s A Walk with Tom Jefferson was published by Knopf. He teaches at California State University at Fresno. (1990)