The Woman Not Wearing A Hat

(First appeared in American Poetry Review, Vol. 33/No. 1, Jan/Feb 2004 pg 31; and is also in The Soup of Something Missing.)

The Woman Not Wearing A Hat

For two dollars you could run

your hands through her hair.

That’s what the cardboard sign

between her hands said.

A hat at her feet collected the money.

Wind pushing against her hair forced it to sway.

I dropped my two dollars in and grabbed

the hair at the back of her neck.

I closed my eyes; she closed hers.

(I don’t recall whose eyes closed first.)

It was the middle of the afternoon.

Perspiration dampened her hair.

I could feel people looking at me.

For years I told people I only did it

so she didn’t feel like she was taking charity.

That’s not exactly true,

for years I wouldn’t tell anyone.

I ran my hand to the top of her head,

turned and left before she opened her eyes.

There’s no telling what a man is willing to pay for.