Invisible in Plain Sight

by Carolin Messier

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Even if her sign
were illuminated in neon
she would be invisible.
We drive right by,
safely in our cars,
or glance down at our phones,
or the sidewalk,
as we walk past.
We don’t look her in the eye as she
stands on the corner
with her cardboard sign,
trying to get her life back on track.
We don’t look her in the eye as we
assume she’s an addict
or a swindler,
judge her failures
or her sanity,
feel contempt for her inability
to make it like the rest of us.
We’ve had hard times
and we’ve pulled through.
She’s not like us.

But to pull yourself up by your bootstraps
you must first already have
boots,
with straps.

And the real reason
we don’t look her in the eye
is the fear of our own reflection there,
our fear of recognizing
that we too could be
one layoff,
or one illness,
or one trauma,
or one devastating loss away
from the isolation
and humiliation
of standing on a corner
with a cardboard sign,
invisible.