• Author Kim Patton

Anika: A Song in the Dark



On the street, they call me baby.


I am stringy dark hair,

A head shorter than most everyone else

There’s an overpass I tuck away in most nights

a few of us sleeping in the nooks and crannies,

The cars above us driving by noisily

Interrupting our fitful dreams


Anika lies on the other side of me

Underneath a shadowy covering beside where the patches of grass begin

She wags her head back and forth, troubled

Talks to herself

Gnaws on the right knuckle of her hand

Her teeth scraping into the skin


She is unsettled

We all are


We choose drugs, prostitution, theft, alcohol, violence, apathy

But most of us deny choosing anything

Because it’s been too long and we feel now that this life chose us


I’m hopeless on some days

But other days with a slice of pizza in my hand,

I think things might be okay


Anika though,

It’s hard for me to think anything about her could possibly contain hope

She’s worn through clothes faster than anyone I’ve ever seen

And the holes in her thin sweater now let the mice climb through overnight


Tonight it’s cold and she saunters kind of close,

A little too close for comfort if you ask me


We haven’t talked in a while but I know she’s feeling lonely

So I let her sit by me and share my scrappy blanket


She smells like sewer, dandelions and rusty dirt

But her eyes are sharp green like needles

And her gaze cuts me.


“Today”

She whispers

“Is my daughter’s birthday”


I can see the dirt tracks on her cheeks where her mama tears must have just fallen

I am embarrassed

I didn’t know she had a daughter

I didn’t know she was a mother

I didn’t know


“I used to sing to her-

You know-

Before they took her away from me.”


Late nights from the past came back to me,

Her humming,

Her melodies,

Her quiet musical voice

For some reason, I had ignored it


But now,

I can see that deep inside her holes and grit and grime

Might be a woman,

A mother with a lovely singing voice


My eyes must have appeared skeptical because

Her eyes squinted like I was daring her


“What did you sing to her?”

I asked


Anika chewed on the end of her finger because

The raw knuckle was red and bleeding


“The same thing my mama used to sing to me.”


She raised her head and let her eyes find a star or two

Between the concrete above us

And then her eyelids fluttered shut

And her grubby hands reached to find mine,

Clasping tightly like I was falling off a cliff


We sat together as the cold swirled around us,

Her voice waving back and forth,

An ache in the notes but a deep vibrato too


She was singing Amazing Grace


When her voice cracked, I looked to her peacefully closed eyes

And she kept going


When the cars drowned her out for a moment,

I stayed glued to her face


Because today Anika was honoring her mother

And her daughter

All in one grace-filled breath

And I wasn’t going to let her do it without an audience


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