Trace the effort that it takes not to see us; this is the work of disappearing. Let your flesh be erased into the skin of the walls you pass, feel the weight in your heels as they touch the ground before us: prostrate. This is our altar, rest-stop, bedroom, front porch on a Tuesday afternoon.
What will you do with your hands?
Wish you had pockets? A cigarette? Something to bite into.
My spine grinds softly into the wall but it won’t make a mark. These surfaces don’t have the give to take the impressions of my body; I know. My legs have held the same bend for hours, and to shift weight would suggest movement, but there is nowhere I need to be today.
Not looking is also a choice: Keep your chin steady, level with the chest and with the slope of the sidewalk, your stride has suddenly widened – did you notice? Hold your breath, I am not sorry; wait for the reward, the prize of making it four steps further until you can relax, release your mind.
Does it hurt (to look)?
Why are you afraid?
I appear idle in spaces designed for movement. I won’t be ordering any pizza or beer or pulling keys from my bag to enter the stairwell or slipping cellphone into pocket or leaning against the doorjamb waiting for someone who should be here any minute or gripping the end of the leash while the dog takes a piss. I am here without an acceptable excuse for stillness.
My belly is swollen with indigestion and my hair slicks back at the nape of the neck. Chips of paint fall into my eyes, and you: your mouth tastes of chalk; your feet are light, but the burden is heavy. The sky is falling in streaks of blank nothingness and your apathy is numbness you use as armour. It is wiping us out and away from one another. It is killing you. What you cannot see does not disappear; it festers untended and intentionally forgotten, I take on your sickness. I am not the exception: with this strategy, everyone will be left behind.
word by Alisha Mascarenhas
colour by Brett Amory
From the author: “I needed to write this in response to my own complicity in the stigmatization of homelessness, both visible and intentionally erased. I wanted to address the violence of looking away, which I relate to and am sickened by. The posturing of the man passing on the sidewalk stirred a particular kind of anger, invoking fragments of a larger struggle with how to navigate interactions with people I meet in the street; chance encounters, moments of confrontation and real as well as perceived threats.”