Lunch Hour – Eileen Chong

Lunch hour. The machine halts its drilling
into concrete. The workman folds his body
onto his haunches like an accordion and takes off
his gloves. There: feeling returns to fingers
flexing in cool freedom. They undo chin strap,
remove hard hat and eyewear – now the sun
and the winter wind in his hair and on his skin.

In the corner old Nick kneels before his oiled
wood-box. Yesterday, his birthday; today
the cardboard sign reads only ‘Homeless
Shoe Shine’. Once, he had a dog on a string;
before that, a white-and-orange cat
with green eyes and a too-tight collar.
On a good day, a brown bottle at sundown

and oblivion for breakfast. The workman thinks
about lunch: only the day before he’d stood in line
behind a woman with soft hair who smelled
like flowers. It’s time to get up now, time to let
the blood back into his legs. His hour is running out.
But wait – down the street, a flash of red like poppies
tossing their heads in a field of luminous green.