What an elderly man selling his poems on the street knows about love


The meter is running: Glenn Ragland sells love poems for $5 during the morning rush hour at the corner of K Street and Connecticut Avenue NW. (Amanda Voisard/for The Washington Post)

The man on the corner has hair in his ears, stains on his shirt and poems in his hands.

The poems are for sale, $5 apiece. You’ll know this from his sign, red with white letters, strapped around his midsection with a worn black cord.

“Would you like to buy a poem?” he asks you.

FOR LOVE + ROMANCE, the sign says.

The man on the corner knows all about romance. Public records show his age as between 78 and 84, but he says he’s 65. Old enough to learn about love, either way. He’s loved in Paris and Canada, Switzerland and New York. He fell in love for real only once, here in the District.

Let’s climb the stairway to the stars, his poem says.

The man on the corner types in Monotype Corsiva, he prints at a shop at 14th and L, stands and waits at 15th and K. Retired from his work as a jazz percussionist, he keeps business cards in his bag that say “Glenn Ragland, Drums — Percussion — Flute Instructor. Author — of “Jazz Profiles in Paris.” There haven’t been many music students coming to his Massachusetts Avenue apartment lately, he says, and his new book is coming along slowly. This is how he channels his boredom.

Usually he makes $30 in a day. Once he made $100.

Five dollars for a small piece of paper. Five dollars for the story of his loves.

The moon gave the stars a big hug and said now go around the sky with your beauty splendor and grace.

The man on the corner loved a woman named Barbara, whose mother hated him for being black. And hated him even more when Barbara got pregnant.

The man on the corner loved a woman named Helen, who wanted to live with him in her luxurious house two blocks from the jazz club where he played the drums. But he wouldn’t leave his music for a woman who he thought might leave him for another man.

I’m trying to explore love. Why? Because I’m down to my last dream.

The man on the corner loved a woman named Mary, whom he married because she begged for it and divorced because the begging never stopped.

The man on the corner loved a woman named Nicole, who was young and French. So French, in fact, that she never wore panties, even in the wintertime.

I will kiss your fingers, your lips . . . walking along the ocean to let the under-water creatures phantasize

And then, the man on the corner met the love of his life. Her name was Abigail. She always wore panties, didn’t beg and never asked him to live with her, because she already lived with another man. Their affair lasted five years: days spent driving her tan car to the park, eating tuna salad sandwiches and fruit cups, staying the night when she fought with her husband. She would wear Glenn’s robe around the house and say, “Do you want me to walk for you?” Because he believed that when you love a woman, you learn everything about her. What she likes, how she speaks and most important, how she walks. “So when you see someone coming across the street,” he says, “you know it’s her.”

Now, the man on the corner is alone. Abigail is still married. He doesn’t see her coming across the street. But he sees you. Would you like to buy a poem?

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