My train runs next to the road for a moment
and in the ditch a white car lies belly up:
no motion, no sound, nothing. A bicyclist dismounts
and begins to make his way down to see if
— but the track curves suddenly away and the scene
moves out of the frame of the train window, the man
caught mid-step, one foot frozen in the air, still
suspended in the moment of his good intentions.
Weeks later, on the metro, a man boards and begins
making his way down the length of the car,
handing out flyers. I take one without looking up,
thinking maybe it will be amusing, and then I look
at the paper in my hand. It says: Help me. I need a face.
There are two photographs side by side, one
a normal-looking man, the other one who has been
profoundly, terribly burned. And I look up and see
the man handing out the flyers
is the man in the second picture. He has no face,
just the smooth horror of rubbery scar,
barely recognizable as human, a burned thing.
I am stunned, paralyzed, and when he comes back
through the car to ask silently for money I give
back the flyer and nothing else. I sit there frozen
and then he passes on to the next row, the next car
(I give him nothing).
The rest of the train ride I picture myself following him
into the other car, giving him something, a word, some money,
not too late. Convincing myself
of my goodness
until I have to get off the train.
Leaving the station, I climb up the stairs like a sleepwalker,
wanting to weep, like someone dreaming. I imagine
the police are giving out flowers to the people,
and as a gendarme comes down my side of the stairs he nods
gravely and hands me a bouquet of daffodils.
In the middle of this gray city, I am holding a little
sun in my hands, the light washing over my skin
as I emerge from the mouth of the underground.
As I turn a corner, clutching the flowers, still dreaming,
a man catches up to me and points at my hands.
Did the police give you those? he asks.
Those were my flowers.
He tells me he was in a phonebooth when he saw them
come and take away his basket —
There was nothing I could do. I have no license.
I try to give back the stolen flowers
but he won’t take them, asks for money.
He wants ten francs but I only give him five.
And do you give? And how much do you give?
And how in God’s name do you judge who is deserving?
I have taught myself to harden my heart
and close my eyes, keep walking
past the derelicts and the drunks
and all the faceless human debris —
folded up the picture and handed it back,
not ready for a call like that. Oh God.
Living like this sucks the humanity out of me.
But someday, I pray, I will be ready.
The man in the overturned car, who is
the man on the metro, the man without a face,
will look up and see someone is coming,
someone is coming to see what is the matter.
And finally the freeze frame resumes,
the bicyclist complete his motion.
He puts his foot down and sets forth
to see if there are any survivors.