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the beggar's tide


The Blind Beggar — Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848–1884) — public domain



new moon on the rise and on this dark and empty beach I rage and rage and rage against the maddened waves foam on our lips exchanging wild and angry laughter as they crash and splice into slavish rivulets of supplication that hiss and crawl to —KISSSS —  my boots and I step back untouched and they retract refused and unfulfilled the beggar’s gesture the timeless endless beggar’s wave of one hundred and fifty million empty hands new moon on the rise and the beggar’s tide is high and all I do on this dark and empty beach is rage and rage and shout at a sea full of poverty because today as I walked the streets I failed to fill that single outstretched hand


... I wrote this piece some thirty-five years ago, when I was in my mid-twenties — that enchanting age where raging and railing against an unjust world seems to come with the territory. Written in the wee hours of a stormy March morning, the poem combines two seperate incidents, in two seperate settings, experienced on the same day. At the time, I was living in Paris, and each morning, on my way to work, I would pass the same beggar sitting at the entrance to my subway station. He never missed a day, and I never failed to pass him the handful of change I’d collected from the bakery where I bought my morning croissant. Except for that one time, a Friday, when something inexplicably stubborn and selfish made me ignore him and walk by, change jingling in my pocket as I hurried down into the subway tunnels and off to work. At the end of the day, with the weekend in sight, my girlfriend and I headed out of Paris for a seaside stay in Dieppe, on the Normandy coast, looking forward to catching a breath of fresh air and the spectacle of the spring tide. As I mentioned earlier, the elements were quite unchained that night, all the way into morning, and our walk along the windswept beach and, yes, the “raging” sea, gave us more of a breath than expected. At some point during the walk, I stopped, eyed the waves breaking and crawling up the beach, and suddenly I remembered that morning’s incident with the beggar and started shouting into the noise of the howling wind and roaring waves like a madman. When I was done, my girlfriend asked “what the hell was that all about?” and I said “nothing; just something I had to get out of my system.” And in the wee hours of the morning, I wrote...

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