Ragman by Walter Wangerin, Jr.
"Ragman and Other Cries of Faith"
I saw a strange sight. I stumbled
upon a story most strange, like
nothing my life, my street sense,
my sly tongue had ever prepared
Hush, child. Hush, now, and I will
tell it to you. Even before the
dawn one Friday morning I noticed
a young man, handsome and strong,
walking the alleys of our City.
He was pulling an old cart filled
with clothes both bright and new,
and he was calling in a clear,
tenor voice: "Rags!" (Ah, the air
was foul and the first light filthy
to be crossed by such sweet music.)
"Rags! New rags for old! I take
your tired rags! Rags!" "Now, this
is a wonder," I thought to myself,
for the man stood six-feet-four,
and his arms were like tree limbs,
hard and muscular, and his eyes
Could he find no better job than
this, to be a ragman in the inner
city? I followed him. My curiosity
drove me. And I wasn't disappointed.
Soon the Ragman saw a woman sitting
on her back porch. She was sobbing
into a handkerchief, sighing, and
shedding a thousand tears. Her knees
and elbows made a sad X. Her
shoulders shook. Her heart was
The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly,
he walked to the woman, stepping
round tin cans, dead toys, and
Pampers. "Give me your rag," he
said so gently, "and I'll give
you another." He slipped the
handkerchief from her eyes. She
looked up, and he laid across her
palm a linen cloth so clean and
new that it shined. She blinked
from the gift to the giver.
Then, as he began to pull his cart
again, the Ragman did a strange
thing: he put her stained
handkerchief to his own face;
and then HE began to weep,
to sob as grievously as she had
done, his shoulders shaking. Yet
she was left without a tear.
"This IS a wonder," I breathed to
myself , and I followed the sobbing
Ragman like a child who cannot turn
away from mystery.
"Rags! Rags! New rags for old!"
In a little while, when the sky
showed grey behind the rooftops and
I could see the shredded curtains
hanging out black windows, the
Ragman came upon a girl whose head
was wrapped in a bandage, whose
eyes were empty. Blood soaked her
bandage. A single line of blood
ran down her cheek. Now the tall
Ragman looked upon this child with
pity, and he drew a lovely yellow
bonnet from his cart.
"Give me your rag," he said,
tracing his own line on her cheek,
"and I'll give you mine." The child
could only gaze at him while he
loosened the bandage, removed it,
and tied it to his own head. The
bonnet he set on hers. And I gasped
at what I saw: for with the bandage
went the wound! Against his brow it
ran a darker, more substantial
blood - his own!
"Rags! Rags! I take old rags!" cried
the sobbing, bleeding, strong,
intelligent Ragman. The sun hurt
both the sky, now, and my eyes;
the Ragman seemed more and more
"Are you going to work?" he asked
a man who leaned against a telephone
pole. The man shook his head
The Ragman pressed him: "Do you have
"Are you crazy?" sneeredthe other.
He pulled away from the pole,
revealing the right sleeve of his
jacket - flat, the cuff stuffed into
the pocket. He had no arm.
"So," said the Ragman. "Give me
your jacket, and I'll give you
mine." Such quiet authority in his
The one-armed man took off his
jacket. So did the Ragman - and I
trembled at what I saw: for the
Ragman's arm stayed in its sleeve,
and when the other put it on he
had two good arms, thick as tree
limbs; but the Ragman had only one.
"Go to work," he said.
After that he found a drunk,
lying unconscious beneath an army
blanket, and old man, hunched,
wizened, and sick. He took that
blanket and wrapped it round himself,
but for the drunk he left new
And now I had to run to keep up
with the Ragman. Though he was
weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding
freely at the forehead, pulling
his cart with one arm, stumbling for
drunkenness, falling again and again,
exhausted, old, and sick, yet he went
with terrible speed. On spider's legs
he skittered through the alleys of
the City, this mile and the next,
until he came to its limits, and
then he rushed beyond.
I wept to see the change in this
man. I hurt to see his sorrow. And
yet I needed to see where he was
going in such haste, perhaps to
know what drove him so.
The little old Ragman - he came to
a landfill. He came to the garbage
pits. And then I wanted to help
him in what he did, but I hung back,
He climbed a hill. With tormented
labor he cleared a little space on
that hill. Then he sighed. He lay
down. He pillowed his head on a
handkerchief and a jacket. He
covered his bones with an army
And he died.
Oh, how I cried to witness that
death!I slumped in a junked car
and wailed and mourned as one who
has no hope - because I had come
to love the Ragman.
Every other face had faded in
the wonder of this man, and I
cherished him; but he died.I
sobbed myself to sleep.
I did not know - how could I know?
That I slept through Friday night
and Saturday and its night, too.
But then, on Sunday morning, I was
wakened by a violence. Light - pure,
hard, demanding light - slammed
against my sour face,and I blinked,
and I looked, and I saw the last
and the first wonder of all.
There was the Ragman, folding the
blanket most carefully, a scar on
his forehead, but alive! And,
besides that, healthy! There was no
sign of sorrow nor of age, and
all the rags that he had gathered
shined for cleanliness.
Well, then I lowered my head and
trembling for all that I had seen,
I myself walked up to the Ragman.
I told him my name with shame, for
I was a sorry figure next to him.
Then I took off all my clothes in
that place, and I said to him with
dear yearning in my voice: "Dress me."
He dressed me. My Lord, he put new
rags on me, and I am a wonder beside
The Ragman, the Ragman,
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