A Sweater as Bright as Spring

E on DC

Lately I’ve noticed some of my friends’ clothes are worn – shirt cuffs frayed, pants suffering through a break-up with the cleaners and shoes ready to retire. Friends are wearing sweaters that have small holes, sweaters you pull from the back of the closet the first day of fall before going to the outdoor market. No need to dress well for bread and fruit. You think about your clothes the next time you’re sitting next to a friend at a party and you find the topic of economics interrupting your conversation again and again. Maybe you’re a few months from being unemployed. No need to sew a button back on a jacket if you’re running low on contacts and job leads.

I try to overlook what I’ve just written but it’s difficult. D.C. can quickly become the type of lover you have silent meals with. One can slip from the middle-class into poverty without foreplay. That’s why dating is as risky as taking a long lunch break. There are people in Washington, D.C. who are homeless and slowly becoming invisible. When was the last time you gave someone spare change? Who carries cash these days?

Coins and paper money might as well be coal. So you pass the homeless with your eyes looking the other way. What would Jesus do?

When did unemployment become a sin?

Or maybe you’re standing on the corner of 7th and T Streets, NW, close to the Metro Station. You’ve been on this corner for years. You remember the pay phones and the pool room. You remember when you could get chicken carryout and watch the butts of Howard girls and maybe talk to one of them who didn’t have a weave. You felt good laughing and hanging out even with a police bust now and then. Hell, the undercover dudes were cool too. They knew the neighborhood was changing and maybe their jobs would be next. When crime falls so does work.

Does D.C. stand for Death City or Demon City? I see old friends struggling to make a living. Everyone seems to have a business card but no business. But maybe this place is a tale of two cities and why so many of us look as if we escaped from a Dickens novel. Are we still in style? The beautiful people dress well. They are young and carry laptops and yoga mats. Their conversations are about parties and vacations. There is money and there is also dust on an empty shelf.

There are times when this city refuses to recognize me. Even with my poems and images on display in several places around town, I feel like Baldwin in exile. How do you love a city that you use to be married to and now feel so separated from? Is it a simple case of vows renewal? I want to believe there is still enough love in this city to change the balance of things. I don’t want to lose my compassion for my fellow human being. Yet as the air sips a “November Chill” I wonder as I wander from ward to ward.

So what should I give thanks for? A roof over my head? My bones and joints are still pain free, but how long will that last? Will politics improve my life? Every year I place a turkey on the table and bless the food and the people surrounding it. Every year the circle seems to grow smaller. Fathers and mothers die, children move away, or boredom has an affair with one’s marriage.

Some of us are in need of new clothes and a new outlook on life. This might sound cosmetic and New Age, but maybe that’s all one can hope for. What I enjoy about fall is the splendor of color, like the many possibilities that come with life. Our ups and downs are simply seasonal. How one grows to accept these laws of nature will determine how much longer one will delay the possibility of becoming an outlaw.

If you find yourself doing frontier living in DC – afraid of the wild – then this city will only teach you survival skills and nothing else. It will not be a community or even a place of destination. It will not be home.

It will simply be a hub with people passing through like an airport or a bus terminal. This is not something to be thankful for. Right now I need to buy a few new clothes to cover my aging body. I need to buy a sweater as bright as spring.

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