FILTHY RAGS
John Henry Jones locked up his store
And, as so many times before,
He smiled with pride at its success,
Commending his own cleverness.
He wrapped his scarf about his throat
And zipping up his woolen coat,
He stepped out on the wind-blown street;
The chilly air was filled with sleet;
He felt its sting upon his face,
But still he moved at leisure’s pace—
His bus was long from being due,
Besides, his coat let no cold through.

A vagrant stood along his way,
Another in the gutter lay
Asleep in stupefied repose;
The smell of booze from both arose;
Their skimpy clothes were soiled and torn,
And as he eyed the two with scorn,
The tramp who stood fell to his knees
And loudly cried, “Oh, kind sir, please!
It’s not your cash for which I plead,
A garment warm is all I need
For I am freezing to the bone
And have no jacket of my own!”
John Henry snarled, “You drunken bum!
You’ve pawned your jacket for a sum
And spent it all on booze to drink—
I’m not as dumb as you may think!”

Contented with his smug reply,
He doubled pace to hurry by;
But, lo, the vagrant louder cried
With urgency intensified,
And in his quest for clothing warm,
He seized John Henry by the arm,
And though John Henry tugged with might
The vagrant’s grip was much too tight;
John Henry reasoned, “What’s the use
To waste my time to shake him loose?
Besides, this coat is worn and frayed;
Now I can buy one finer made;”
He gave it up reluctantly,
More in disgust than charity,
Yet, as he moved on down the street
Toward his stop through pouring sleet,
He marveled at the deed he’d done,
Had he not “clothed the naked one”?
Did he not do what Christians ought?
Had he not done what Christ had taught?
He gloried in his righteousness—
He was a saint, and nothing less!

Although the wind blew cold and shrill
His arms, now naked, felt no chill,
An inner glow had taken hold
To insulate him from the cold;
He reached his stop with jaunty gait
And leaned against a pole to wait
Then slowly turned his head to view
The scene of his great deed anew
And see the bum in warmer dress
Because of his great righteousness,
But what he saw, to his surprise,
Brought tears in torrents from his eyes
And sounds of sobbing from his throat:
The sleeping vagrant wore the coat!
The other tramp knelt by his friend
And shivered in the cruel wind.

John Henry bowed with shame his head
And to himself he sadly said,,
“How feeble is this deed I’ve done!
He is much more the righteous one,
Mine was of wealth and wrong intent:
In love alone his all he spent;
While pure without, my heart is cold;
Though stained without, his heart is gold.”

A stranger at the bus stop stood;
He wore a jacket with a hood;
Inside, it was with fleece all lined—
For days like this it was designed;
He saw John Henry’s tear filled eyes;
He heard his woeful sobs and sighs;
He watched him with a deep concern
And thought in him he did discern
Some wretched soul fraught with despair
From lack of something warm to wear.

The bus around the corner roared,
And just before he climbed aboard,
The stranger doffed his jacket warm
And placed it on John Henry’s arm,
Then quickly turned and ducked his head
Into the bus as off it sped.

Upon this sudden tender stroke,
John Henry from his daze awoke
And eyed the jacket in his hand,
Then down the street he quickly scanned;
The tramp still sat beside his friend
Still trembling from the driving wind;
John Henry’s eyes with tears yet burned,
But sobs to laughter now had turned
Because this sudden circumstance
Now offered him a second chance
To truly clothe the naked one;
He ran as fast as he could run.

 © J. G. Braddock Sr.

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