Afflicted and Unafflicted on Fifth Avenue, New York

(from An Answer to Exile)


Today a tow-away truck

Towed away a green and silver Cadillac

Illegally parked at the junction of Thirty Fourth Street

And Fifth Avenue.

As it moved off

Incongruously hitched to its inferior's posterior

The owners (man, woman, two children)

Arrived in time

To see their thirty thousand dollars illusion of security


The woman wailed on the man's shoulder

The children wailed clutching their mother's skirt.

Passers-by passed by.


One snorted in angry disgust:

"They have little to cry about.

Suppose they were in famine-afflicted Africa

Drought-afflicted India

Bomb-afflicted Northern Ireland

Highjack-afflicted aircraft

Old-age-afflicted institutions

Leprosy-afflicted leper colonies

Earthquake-afflicted earthquake areas

Typhoon-afflicted typhoon areas?

Then they'd have something to cry about.


Yet the woman's tears were as real

As those of a woman in Northern Ireland

Whose child

Or husband

Or both

Had just been blown to bits.

The children's tears as real

As those of orphans

In Africa or India

Beside their parents' mute indifferent corpses.

The man's upper lip

Stiff as that of a blindfolded captured Freedom-Fighter

Awaiting interrogation

In other words torture

From other Freedom-Fighters

Because he happened to get caught

In the wrong place

At the wrong time.

Misfortune isn't something

Strangers can measure.

Every misfortune is personal

And every misfortune

Is a death as real as real death.

Admittedly the couple in New York

Will get their car back

After payment of a hefty fine.

But life will never again be fine

As they liked to believe it was

Before this misfortune.

For them as for all other victims

Of the uncodified Law of Averages

Menace will always menace.

Seeing things in their proper perspective

Is the improper privilege

Of the Unafflicted.


1977 Basil Payne