There was a snake in the gutter--
She was positive of that.
It had shown its head twice until the snow had forced it back--
When it snowed it was good for begging, too;
But the wind tonight was too freezing--
It hurried people along.
She could see the money lumps on a dozen girls' legs--
What need had they for money?--
And she had but one dime
That felt bad for the hour's intoning:
"Help a poor old woman who's starving,
For the sake of Mary, the Mother of God."
The snake could not reach her while it kept on snowing,
Yet the snow might stop.
She ought to be away,
But the bad dime didn't help much.
Why wouldn't people listen?
Her left hand was numb, but she couldn't put it
Between the newspapers wrapped around her
Under her cloak,
For there was the frozen carnation
That had to be dangled
Before the eyes of passersby
If the quarters were ever to come in.
The carnation was now three days old,
And of a mustard shade,
For saloon dust discolours.
But yesterday it had brought her a half dollar at noon--
It was not to be discarded.
She wished she knew whether snakes feared carnations.
If it had a longer stem she might get
Her hand inside the cloak
And let the flower show outside--
But a man must have worn it in his buttonhole,
And she was afraid to stick it in the cloak's fold,
Lest the wind blow it away.
There wouldn't be many more people now
Until the theatres were out.
It was a bad stand, anyway--
Why had she come here?
The lights were too bright.
Here was someone opening a purse. She droned:
"Help a poor woman, for the Mother of God."
It was no more than a dime,
But it was a good one this time--
Two more, and she could leave the snake
There in the gutter.
Maybe she could pass the bad coin between the good ones.
Then the theatres would be out.
She was glad there weren't many people passing--
She was tired of approaching them;
They never heard all she said,
There was no use of her making any sound.
If she could only sit down comfortable and warm
In a chair, and hold her hand out--
Then she could bury her head in her cloak,
And she wouldn't see the gutter,
And the snake couldn't see her.
There would be dozing, and when the midnight came
She would count the coins,
A lot of dimes and some quarters,
And there wouldn't be anything more to think about,
And she could throw away the carnation.
Here was a crowd again--
The theatres were letting out earlier and earlier,
And it was not snowing as hard.
She wondered if the snake knew that?
She had to speak again; it was her last chance,
For everybody was hurrying by; they always hurried--
And then there would be nobody.
She needed both her hands,
For there were coatsleeves to be touched.
But she mustn't lose the carnation until she knew
Whether the morrow demanded it.
There was only her hair--she might stick the dirty flower in it,
And then she was free to fight the snake.
It was the best hour,
But she had always made a mistake.
People never heard all she said,
And, besides, they gave too little.
She must speak quickly--her throat burned,
But words must come. A few would answer.
Dimes weren't worth many. Anything would do:
"Please help--the Mother of God."