Those nights were black nights,
but not dreary like the ones before.
And often we would see a drunk
on the side of the road, hitchhiking,
and my father,
he’d pull over and wait,
as the man shuffled towards us.
They’d always come up to the window first,
try for the door.
But my father always honked
and they’d climb into the back.
Typically, he only helps them
when he drives alone
but once or twice, when I was younger,
I was with him
and I remember their bright eyes
reflecting in our headlights
like wild animals:
their frayed hair and
carrying all that they owned
in discarded backpacks.
My father always told me:
“Never do this, ever.
These men are sick and you can’t save them.”
I’d wanted to ask why, then,
did he help them?
Wouldn’t he also get sick?
But my father and I didn’t have that type of relationship:
he’d say something and I listened,
Later, when I learned
how my father had spent his youth,
with people like that,
how he was a man like those men,
And I’m glad I never asked.
Now I know he was being kind.
How he was already sick like them
but was suppressing the symptoms
successfully one day at a time.
I used to think he was callous:
how he told me I couldn’t save them.
I’d thought my pastor-father better than
believers in bootstraps
and “poor people and addicts”
who “keep themselves there.”
Thought him smarter than the part-time bigots,
who underneath good intentions,
still think pity and dollar donations
win the poverty wars.
And true, perhaps he believes
in the micro-truths:
an advocator of addicts who can save themselves.
But when our head lights
reflected back from the roadwalker’s eyes,
my father would blink
and see himself from before my birth.
So, he’d stop and they would sit behind us;
back to back,
and watch the miles
they would have had to walk alone
shrink along white lines,
now hopefully to think about hope
and not about how their feet hurt
or how each passing car is no more soulless
then their drivers.