Edited and introduced by Wesley McNair, Maine poet laureate.

Betsy Sholl, the former poet laureate of our state, writes that this week’s poem “came out of an actual experience at the main post office in Portland,” where she heard a little voice that grew larger as she thought about it.

Alms

By Betsy Sholl

Small as a fly bump, the little voice

behind me calling Miss, Miss, wanted

a dollar, maybe for food as she said

in that voice of mist, so plaintive

and soft it could have come from inside

my own head, a notch below whisper,

voice of pocket lint, frayed button hole,

voice of God going gnat small. I shivered

and stopped. I looked for the source,

and there it was again, Miss, so slight

it wobbled moth-like on air,

up from a bare trash-filled recess

beside the post office steps. Yes,

I gave the dollar. But I had seven

in my wallet, so clearly that voice

wasn’t small enough, still someone

else’s sorrow, easy to brush off,

till later that night, in bed, I heard it

again, smaller—miss, miss, little fly strafe

troubling sleep—not a name at all,

but a failure, a lack, a lost chance.

Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2014 Betsy Sholl. Reprinted from “Otherwise Unseeable,” University of Wisconsin Press, 2014, by permission of Betsy Sholl. Questions about submitting to Take Heart may be directed to Gibson Fay-LeBlanc at [email protected] or 228-8263. “Take Heart: Poems from Maine,” an anthology collecting the first two years of this column, is now available from Down East Books.