Can one describe to the boy
That woman standing on the city street,
And all that pretty make-up she’s wearing?
It’s not his mother’s beauty anymore,
And you can almost see him realize it
As he looks on her dark, dank eyes…
For he is not blind.
He has likely heard of a hooker before
(Although hasn’t every child?),
But perhaps he once thought her to be
One with the shadows.
Kept in dimly lit alleyways
Alongside society’s trashed and forgotten--
Just waiting to be fetched.
Was that what the boy thought?
But here she was.
On the crowded sidewalk:
Dreaming of life better than Nashville—
Wanting to eat, wear, always live
Better than Nashville—
Praying that she could go a day
Without looking in the studio’s broken mirrors,
And looking into the dank, dark eyes…
For she is not blind.
But still she stands there,
Amongst the bustling crowd of people.
Does the boy know her dreams?
Could he possibly understand that
This beautiful woman—
Lost under lies and scars
But such a pretty girl indeed—
Dreams of life outside of Nashville?
Are there even such things
As choices anymore?
Perhaps that is the kind of thinking
That comes with age.
So we, like everyone else,
Shuffle past this woman
(And she will not be the last);
And oh, what horrid curiosity must
Be stirring within the boy’s mind?
He turns his head back,
And most certainly wants to say something.
But she is gone,
Only a single cigarette
In the masses.
I take his small hand and lead him away.
Past the dying neon lights overhead,
And the smashed bottles,
Glittering on the ground
As pearls on a beach.
I lead him away from the dreams of Nashville.
With assuring breath,
“There will always be those with less than us.
But God watches all people, son,
And he loves us all equally.
(A long pause, searching for words)
They are thankful for what they have,
And so should we.”
We are finally alone,
Finally away from the happy din
Of unhappy people.
And he asks me
(In a way only a child could):
“Is that what life is?”
To stand as a living corpse
On the Nashville sidewalk,
Dreaming of the outside…
She makes her choice
To look beyond her eyes.
She decides that,
Under all that pretty make-up,
She is more than a cage of bones.
Someday the boy will understand
That pretty girl dreaming in Nashville,
But not now. Now,
It is far past his bedtime.
So he sleeps.
And that woman on the sidewalk,
With the old cigarette in her mouth,
Watches the men stare, the women stare,
And the children stare.
But she also sees the smoke
High into the summer air.
Just another day at work.
Notes: This poem was inspired by a personal experience of mine during a trip to Nashville, TN, when I was in middle school. It was there that, like the boy described in the poem, I saw a real-life prostitute for the first time. This poem began from that one youthful perception, but quickly expanded into questions and thoughts I had never considered before.
I find that a lot of this poem derives from this one question I keep asking myself, over and over: “Is this what life is?” There are so many different philosophies about how to live life, but can there ever be a universal answer?
If even the lowest can find hope, then can we not find hope as well?
I hope you enjoyed reading this poem; good luck to my fellow contestants. Thank you.
The Center for Writing Excellence is pleased to announce our fourth Annual Summer Writing Institute!