Beggars, a Poem: Notes on Need and Circumstance

This reflection and accompanying poem come to us from Becky Carlozzi. The night before my […]

This reflection and accompanying poem come to us from Becky Carlozzi.

The night before my husband and I left for our fifteen-year anniversary trip to Italy, I received a phone call that my friend had been arrested and would spend several weeks in jail. The following day, staring out a window at 30,000 feet, I imagined the humiliation and helplessness of being incarcerated. I thought about the disparity of our current circumstances, which felt like an accurate snapshot of our lives’ experiences. Each step forward had been uphill for her, with minimal space for error; on the other hand, the buffer around my life had always been wide. What served to keep me comfortable, however, had also been hindering my capacity to feel my need.

A few days into our trip in Rome, my husband and I were following a walking tour that led us to three ancient fountains in the middle of a large piazza. The sun was setting, illuminating the architecture around us in a hue of soft orange. A man was playing his guitar nearby with his case open in front of him and his music adding to the ambience. People were gathered in clusters, eating and laughing while their kids chased each other squealing with laughter. Walking through the crowds mesmerized by the beauty surrounding us, I saw a woman whose posture jutted abruptly into that paradise.

I had never seen anyone beg with the same intensity. Her advanced age added to the severity of her positioning as her back was drawn up from the ground like a cat feeling cornered and threatened. A small tin cup sat quietly in front of her outstretched hands and face, which were buried into the cracks of the cobblestone. Her image never left me. Seared into my brain, she occupied my thoughts as I stared out the window on my flight home. I wondered about her life-story and the events that had led her to the piazza that evening. I also wondered if I had ever felt that desperate for anything and why I reflexively want to avert my eyes in the presence of such desperation.

Simply adding more layers of padding felt easier than introspection. I could attribute my friend’s incarceration to poor life choices. I could thoughtlessly caricature the woman’s motives for begging. I had many trusted strategies to choose from to soften the jagged feeling of my frailty. However, these strategies struggled to stand up to the knowledge of my friend’s story. Seeing myself in her position, I was confident that I would be sitting in jail at that moment instead of on an airplane. Our friendship was changing the way I saw myself. It was also changing the way I saw the world.

* * *


Prostrate in the middle of the piazza
I wanted her to stand up and enjoy the evening like me
She interrupted my trance
My tiny, tidy image of a benevolent God

Her spine drawn up like a bow
Knees and elbows wedged into the cracks of the cobblestone
Hands pressed together forming a prayer arch
Forehead touching the ground

I was uncomfortable in her desperation
I walked on by

Tailed and pursued, her need relentless in soliciting mine
Beckoning me to feel
The uneven path where I stood
Clamoring for me to hear
The broken bones ricochet with each step

The cadence of my heart stretched and slowed
My eyes narrowed on a sleeping beast I’d met before
The last time it roused, I felt out of control
Awkward and unruly, flipping tables, making messes

I wanted her to stand up
My knees buckling under the weight of her posture