I recently moved from an apartment I had occupied for approximately 20 years.  Until this move, I had resisted labeling myself as a hoarder.  But if the truth be told, I am.

During the move, I discovered articles (treasures) I had saved that went back to when my daughters (now adults) were children. There were news articles, correspondence from loved ones (including college boyfriends), photos, art, flyers advertising art shows and concerts, recipes, etc. etc., etc.

Ah, nostalgia, an indescribable sense of comfort brought on by memories and the familiar, came over me in spite of my fatigue. Among the treasures I found a poem written in ink in my handwriting with a few underlined words written in pencil. The poem was profound ( see below). Its analysis of human behavior moved me. Wow, I thought, could I have possibly written this?  Be still, my ego. 

Well, I had the good sense to Google the first line of the poem and discover that: “No, Peggy, you did not write this poem.” The poem was written in the 1960s by an American poet named James Patrick Kinney (1923-1974). I hope you also find it profound.

The Cold Within

Six humans trapped by happenstance
In bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood
Or so the story’s told.

Their dying fire in need of logs
The first man held his back
For of the faces round the fire
He noticed one was black.

The next man looking ’cross the way
Saw one not of his church
And couldn’t bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes.
He gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use
To warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought
Of the wealth he had in store
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy shiftless poor.

The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight.
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.

The last man of this forlorn group
Did nought except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave
Was how he played the game.

Their logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without
They died from the cold within.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...