"Don't look at them"
Was the tro tro driver's advice to us
As we drove to Kejatia.
"They are just beggars"
So jarringly nonchalant.
Then he took a sharp turn-
A sudden abrupt detour
off the paved road.
You get sick if you
Don't look out the window,
And more sick when you do.
With your eyes glued to the plastic window
To watch the passing shacks,
Their walls, crimped rusted metal slabs.
The rivulets of green and red sewage
That pass and pass. I had to look
At the barefooted woman hawking,
The cobweb infested barbwires,
The relic of a shirt
Clinging to the bowing back
Of a man balancing a mountain of bags
Still raining concrete dust,
Mixing with his sweat.
His eyes looked the color iodine
Behind him stood a once white wall
With a faded inscription about the evils of men
That I could not quite make out.
There was a certain look
That could pierce from a distance.
I found one smile in the face of a toothless woman
That looked more like a grimace,
So I politely looked away,
Trying not to cringe
From a whiff of the open sewer,
Or betray disgust
When hit by a cloud
Of black, thick diesel
Feasting on my lungs.
I saw a dead body on the side of the road.
The naked babies hiding in the shadows,
Their skin coming off in flakes.
No one brushes the flies from their face,
And looking up they hesitate,
With tired eyes that radiate
To collide with mine,
Sheltered and sick for it.
Driving past, unable to take a second glance.
"Don't look" is their advice.
What is there to romanticize? Synthesize,
About raw human suffering?
Stay at home. Watch the news.
Half promise to write a check,
Then continue on with your dinner.