A Survivor at Paddington Station

by Marilyn Francis
The Write Idea
First Place, December 2013
Judged by Kelly Cherry


He was used to waiting,
and the transit lounge on Platform 1
wasn’t too bad.

The Polish girl behind the desk
was busy, busy, busy with enquiries.
But he could wait.

After all, he had his own chair to sit on.
He would wait until someone noticed him
in his too-big scarlet jacket

and black cap loose on his skull.
He had all the time and no time –
a piece of travelling debris. He slept.

Slept to attention, hands like a handful
of kindling resting on his knees, and a tide
of travellers washed around him.


This is a poem that possesses dignity. Without squirming or showing off, it delivers a clear, crisp portrait of a man waiting to ask a question of "t]he Polish girl behind the desk," who is dealing with a slew of questions from other people. He is content to wait, undemanding, perhaps somewhat meek. The man's jacket is too large for him and his black cap too small, which tells us he is probably down at the heels, poor, certainly unattended by tailors or department stories. He falls asleep, which tells us he is weary, has perhaps already been traveling for a long time, and not in a hurry. He is referred to as "debris," and now we know for sure that he is one of multitudes of travelers, no one to be singled out. As he sleeps, his hands lie on his knees like "kindling," as if they are trash branches, no longer serviceable for real work. Yet even sleeping, he seems ready to wake at any given moment. This small but crucial detail heightens our sense of his precarious life and his personal decency. Alas, no one notices him. In fact, "a tide / of travellers washed around him," this splendid image underscoring our understanding of him as "a piece of debris," discounted by others as litter, without worth. The poem is simple but does its work efficiently and leaves the sympathetic reader with something like heartache, a kind of sadness coupled with fondness. --Kelly Cherry

  • January 2019 Winners

    • First Place

      How the Wind Works
      by Alison Armstrong-Webber
      The Waters

      Second Place

      Sleep Walker
      by Brenda Levy Tate
      PenShells

      Third Place

      The Woman Who Grew up in My House Finds Me on Facebook and Comes to Take a Look Around
      by Antonia Clark
      The Waters

  • December 2018 Winners

    • First Place

      Tires
      by Kenny A. Chaffin
      Babilu

      Second Place

      Scouring Pots While the World Ends
      by Elizabeth Koopman
      Wild Poetry Forum

      Third Place

      Poetry in the Cultural Revolution
      by Bob Bradshaw
      The Waters