Dressed in black, long cardigan over long skirt,
she walks the city streets, treading time until the night
shelter opens. Lace-less sandshoes a size too small
clamp her toes hard, shoot barbed-wire pain up her legs.
Head bent, she passes the mirrored windows
of high-rise blocks, catches a silvery glimpse
of grey hair scraggly on thin shoulders, hacked fringe
falling over her face. She palms it behind her ear.
Before the streets she was a beauty playing piano
in crowded concert halls, arms lifting like a ballerina’s,
fingertips flowing over the keys, winging away
heartbreak on the sorrowed notes of Bach and Chopin
and Satie. Now, bumped along by the going-home
crowds, she sidles up against the wall of the 7–Eleven
as workers and students mass at the traffic lights
then stream off at the command of the clicking
green man. She trails them to the town hall,
sees a bench, rests a while as dusk cools and darkens
the day. A shiver stirs her, she checks the clock,
presses one hand into the small of her back,
levers herself up with the other. Pulls the cardigan
tight round her shoulders, crosses one arm
over the other, wriggles cold fists into the warmth
of her armpits, walks on. Near the shelter,
just a block to go, she betrays her own code, catches
the eye of a stranger, sees pity. A cry pushes its way up,
hits her throat, would burst through her eyes.
But a practised thought—Not here!—makes of her face
a dam wall, forces the flood back down into the salt
pan in her chest. On this busy street, in this crowded city,
where there is no place for her to wring the old,
old pains away, she will not weep. She will not let you see.