Starving Artist

Starving Artist

A Poem by C.T. Bailey

Prose employing an extended metaphor comparing a homeless person to an artisan. The piece is intended for a poetry slam I will be performing in on August 15th.


It’s hot, maybe 90 degrees or so and I am waiting for my wife and the parking lot we’re sitting in is overflowing with cars and shoppers, cars and shoppers, everywhere cars and shoppers and they move back and forth to the stores like a high and low tide. 

And with this next wave I am drowning in boredom and sweat.

I catch a glimpse of some human form that is flitting and floating, appearing and disappearing, a dozen rows down from me.  I strain for a clearer view but the movement lost between the cars, the glaring sunlight from windshields, and an ethereal heat mirage, in which all things seem to melt together.  Then, with clarity that startles me, the vaporous form finally manifests itself. A woman, or girl, I cannot be sure, but I know because the white dress she is wearing coils around her body with her every turn.  She is a good bit away from me yet, but still moving in my direction �" pirouetting between cars, turning and speaking a few words to this shopper then the next, but always remaining in this constant state of fluid motion. I am intrigued with her.  As she nears, she approaches a Benz and I can see the driver shaking his head and waving a hand in the air �" the universal sign synonymous with “you’re bothering me.”

She continues this dance and I vacillate between amusement with the art form of this parking lot ballerina and a worry - knowing that in a few moments she is going to see me and I cannot hide.  In a few minutes, I will be confronted with truth �" the knowledge of who, what, and why.

Even at this distance, her appearance is quite stunning.  Thin, and as she spins around her blonde hair alternates shoulders on which it rests.  For a moment, I am puzzled.   

And then I understand. 

She’s bumming money - a con artist, I say out loud, shattering the quiet of the car.

I am almost paralyzed by my thoughts.  And as she draws near, I can see how the distance between us has been a liar.  She must be twenty-four or twenty-five but her mottled face doubles that. The white dress she is wearing is tattered at the hem and soiled in an array of brown and yellow hues.  The hair I admired just moments earlier now shows itself to be matted and dingy in color.  Her movement slows only momentarily as she catches me looking her over.  We make eye contact and she floats towards me.  I cannot resist. I roll down my window.

She kneels before my door, both hands gripping its surface as if she is trying to see past the edge of the universe and leaning just at the lip of the void.  In this asphalt Gethsemane, the sweat beads across her furrowed brow and when she opens her mouth an eternity passes before me while I’m waiting for her words to drift through me like a holy breeze.  Her teeth are crooked and stained.  Her blue eyes give every absolute indication of desperation and in this infinite stillness I wonder.  I wonder how she arrived at this place in her life; I wonder where she goes at night; I wonder what she eats; I wonder if anyone misses her; I wonder if she has kids, and I wonder if she has ever known the exhilaration of finding a three dollar blouse - just her size, just her color - hanging in the wrong place on the rack. 


As words begin to form and flow across her cracked lips, hope spills from her eyes and fills the car.  The same hope Michelangelo held as the paint flowed from his brush tip and covered a ceiling while he suffers the pain of lying on a plank for hours on end, the same hope Beethoven must have felt as the vibrations from the chords he struck pierced his deaf ears, the same hope that painted the ground crimson below a tree where hangs the Christ. 

And I realize the only thing that separates my life from hers isn’t an education.  It isn’t an ability to conjure extended metaphors and write pages of symbolic prose, and it certainly isn’t who I know or where I’ve been or what I’ve done.

It is my own misguided hope.

She hopes for something to eat; I hope to get home in time for an early supper.  She hopes she doesn’t get raped when she falls asleep behind a dumpster tonight; I hope my wife hadn’t forgotten to wash the bed linen. She hopes to score a pair of shoes from Goodwill for free; I hope I can find a pair of wingtips that are more cordovan than brown this time.

And this fear that grips me tells me the real truth about this young woman:  the real difference between us, the one thing that keeps me on the inside this air conditioned Volvo and not leaning beside its window in the heat looking for my next meal is the quickened cruel fate of my world hurdling out of control. 

Then this seraph speaks.  And…all I can hear while reaching for my wallet is Master Beethoven softly humming the measures of “Ode to Joy”

<Hum five measures of “Ode to Joy”>

She offers me God’s blessing as she again pirouettes away and I am convinced her angelic presence is leaving me only to revel in my own fate �" to consider how it should come to pass that I might stand before some congregation of souls, spewing lines of poetry prompted by my measure of fear and hope.







© 2011 C.T. Bailey

Author's Note

C.T. Bailey
This is a spoken word piece intended for an upcoming poetry slam.

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Hi Todd,

This is nice, my friend. A well told tale. Your words mimic my thoughts on many an occasion and made me relive those feelings. And I have often pondered what separates us from street people. I think you capture that well. We have different hopes. Some call this mental illness, i.e., that others do not have the same hopes and aspirations that we have, but having different hopes really sums this up. So which hopes are the better? That is hard to say in an absolute sense, although I guess in some way we (those with the more common hopes and aspirations) seem to live a bit more effectively, although our hopes and dreams plague us perhaps more than the lady you write of has her hopes and aspirations plague her.

All the best, Todd, and don't be such a stranger around WC.


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Added on August 3, 2011
Last Updated on September 26, 2011
Tags: homeless, redemption


C.T. Bailey
C.T. Bailey

Bristol, VA

C.T. Bailey has authored a number of professional articles which have been published in various industry trade publications. He is also an award-winning and published writer of poetry, prose, and fic.. more..