After Chester Higgins’s “Bowery Denizen, 1985”

“Bowery Denizen, 1985” © Chester Higgins, Courtesy of the Bruce Silverstein Gallery (

Those fingers: holding neither money nor a wallet hoarding it
(hold, as in the verb meaning to carry, to possess; also to hold,
as in keep safe, the way banks hold deposits like promises kept,
the way he can’t hold his liquor or too many times he was caught
holding drugs, or holding up his hands as if to say “hold it,”
showing he wasn’t holding a gun, was not holding anything
that could hurt anything worse than he’d hurt himself, on the street
at all hours because he can’t hold a job, the system with a hold on him,
meaning he’s logged some hours in the holding tank, being held
on suspicion of murder or vagrancy, laws holding him accountable).

Hold on: is this because he wasn’t held by his mother; why he can’t
hold his ex-wife but knows to hold his tongue, the same way he holds
his spot in line, waiting for a hot meal or cold cup of coffee, holding
his coat during a warm day in autumn knowing he’ll need it that night,
holding it close so nobody else steals it while he’s holding something
else, like hope, with his hand held out for spare change—the dirty skin
creased, chapped, and cracked during evenings when heavy skies hold
snow— held in contempt by those who presume what his future holds,
or assure him that Christ is holding a place in heaven for every sinner:
our reward for living in a world unable to hold the weight of its pain?