Patrick Donnelly

The Sign at Window One



What brings my red Irish face

among the blackest of black faces, crêpe to crow,

applicants waiting in lines that snake to the street,

even the guards and low-level functionaries

one paycheck from the street themselves,

who move languidly from office to office,

or hunch, two or three at a time, bickering

over a task that might well be done by one;

among a caste of voices, Billie-Holiday-hoarse,

of bored kids sucking on empty starches;

among the missing teeth and big earrings of poverty

at a Brooklyn welfare office–sorry,“job center”–

in mudtracked midwinter?


I check the box that says “sex with men”as the reason

I was infected; the reason I am here to hear,

from one cubicle over, a voice that asks:


Any changes, my brother?




“The Sign at Window One” is from The Charge (Ausable Press, 2003).