Better Yet (Reprise)

I had some bags to wrangle
When I got on board the bus that day
I wedged them at an angle
And headed back up front to pay
After I’d gotten to my seat
I heard a nearby rider say
“Excuse me, ma’am, good afternoon
And how might you be doin’ today?”

I glanced at him — a heavy cane
Lay on the seat his body near
To hold his torso upright
Looked as if it cost him dear
Yet no more than forty summers
In his countenance appear
He seemed to want to tell his tale
Which I most willing was to hear

“I hope you will forgive me if
I speak out to you real and plain
I want to ask you what to do
With my whole world of hurt and pain
Every time I turn around
They’re lookin’ down on me again
You can’t know how it is — if I had
Ten years, I could not explain

When we’re born we don’t get to choose
The color of our skin
Or what kind of a neighborhood
We’ll spend our childhood in
We’ve got to somehow just go on
From where we are when we begin
It’s harder for a boy whose
Parents teach him early how to sin

But yet it wasn’t like I went
Around hurtin’ on people, nope
I went my way and stayed at home
Quietly did a little dope
When life got too depressing
To remind me how to cope
To lift my sinking heart
Approximate a little hope

‘Course, no one can go anywhere
Expecting not to pass a cop
And if you’re dark then chances are
As good as not he’ll make you stop
And find a lot of humor in
On one foot getting you to hop
And gen’rally reminding you
That he’s for sure the one on top

How I became a criminal,
That’s all it took me to begin
No rape, abuse or robbery
Had I involved this spirit in
None of that made a difference
The long arm of the law within
Just a nickle bag of powder
My left back Levi’s pocket in…”

He shook his head, his eyes were bright
With many unshed tears
He said “My life’s reality
Been worse than my worst boyhood fears
Just for that one five dollar bag
Took from me twenty years
The best I would have lived
Did not a jury of my peers

Decide six hours of smiling
Is a lower kind of crime
Than rape, embezzlement or theft
Deserving of a longer time
(Unless you’re willing to turn snitch
And drop that deadly dime) —
Long enough to make sure it
Obliterates your prime

They took me where the watching eyes
Of caring people couldn’t see
And I won’t even tell you ’bout
The vicious way they beat on me
The odds were in their favor
It was one on two or three
And then there’s the advantage
When your victim’s handcuffed, see

Got through it all as best I could
And then they let me out again
Dressed in a prison-issue suit
A real outrageous specimen
Two hundred dollars to begin
A new constructive regimen
And found the world had spun away
From all that I could ken

Computer keyboards everywhere
From parking lot to shopping mall
And phones that you pull from your coat
And talk on walking down the hall
So much new stuff to understand
Can even keep track of it all
And no one any more seems
To have any money spare at all

Out — into an equation
Almost guaranteed to fail
When I get any job, first
I must tell the boss I’ve been in jail
Explaining that it didn’t
Any violence entail…
I’ve tried this a whole list of times
To absolutely no avail

And then of course it’s just the same
With each potential landowner
Who thinks that from my past
Unhealthy habits may infer
Informing me for this apartment
In particular
They really would a single
Female college grad prefer”

He gazed into the distance
Then he looked at me and heaved a sigh
“I’m angry,” he said “angry — that
I will not bother to deny
I think the next man that I meet
Who will not look me in the eye,
I might just have to shoot him —
How it feels, not gonna lie”

And that was how ended his tale
Of truly woeful misery
Leaving me to wonder
Why on Earth he’d talked to me:
A member of the master race
And female additionally,
Knew I must have some gift to give
But felt unqualified to be

At last, for utter lack of any
Intelligent thing to say
I told him I intended
For his happiness to pray
“And, brother, you might want to try
To find a better way
Than shooting someone, ’cause for that
They put you back away…”

Wove our slow way the city through
Then when the bus had reached his stop
It broke my heart to watch that man
Struggle to stand his body up
Drinking the bitter dregs of pain
Right from the bottom of the cup
He’d fallen, and the world around
Wouldn’t let him get back up

And as he went I shook myself
In desp’rate inner reprimand
That I had had for such a need
No contribution to command
But suddenly it dawned on me
What heaven of me there demand:
When he passed by the window
I smiled at him and waved my hand

My gift was such a tiny and
Woefully unimportant one
But with it I sent up a pray’r
That by it healing be begun
And though I tried to tell myself
‘Twas but my imagination
I thought from those sad eyes
A tiny twinkle I had won

How long had it been — ever?
Someone turned to him that way
After he already had
Begun to walk away
For no other earthly reason
Than gratuitously say
They deeply and sincerely hoped
That his would be a better day?

I cannot but think to myself
If we blamed less, comforted more
Sought fewer reasons to despise
Detest, deride, deplore
And bother sometimes to recall
Everybody’s good something for
How better yet our world would get
Than it hath ever been before


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