Wallet Lottery

In a March 2017 interview in the Italian magazine “Scarp de’ Tenis,” Pope Francis argued that giving money to someone begging on the street is “always right.”

What if the recipient of your gift decides to uses the money to buy a glass of wine instead of food? If “a glass of wine is the only happiness he has in life,” the pope replied, “that’s OK. Instead, ask yourself, what do you do on the sly? What ‘happiness’ do you seek in secret?”


I thought hard on that and the conflict that I always felt when pan-handlers asked me for money. I resolved to look anyone who asked me for money in the eye, to give them all the $1 bills in my wallet, and to try to understand their circumstances. What this morphed into on a bitterly cold evening in December was a haiku written after giving a man in Washington Circle ten dollars. More haiku followed—not for every encounter but for many…

Wallet Lottery

Should I judge the use?
Bottle, needle, food? Small joys.
Wallet lottery.

Temperature dives
Dark shape, fading light, last ten.
Please…find a shelter.

“Something for me now?”
Paid for coffee, three new ones.
“Out here I’ll die.”

Babble! Two dollars
for a rant on Metro’s stairs.
Cheap soliloquy.

Fourth time on Metro.
Shabby clothes, expensive sling.
The child never moves.

“Please spare what you can.
Help me to feed my brothers.”
Five is not enough.

© 2017 – 2018 William Herndon, All Rights Reserved

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