The February 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Top 20 Meanest Cities in U.S.

Hate Crimes in Fort Lauderdale

Classism in the Stacks: Libraries and Poor People

Housing Authority's Kafka-Style Interrogation

Bay Area Transit: Separate and Unequal

Lawsuit on Behalf of East Bay Bus Riders

MLK Would Tell Congress to Value Workers

Art, Music for Homeless Kids

Mercy: A Story

The Birdman of Berkeley

Resisting Unjust Corporate Power

President Bush Speaks His Mind

Street Spirit Poetry


January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Street Spirit Poetry

by Claire J. Baker

Though as poor and alone
as many we see,
Van Gogh posed his pair
of old boots,
painted their immortality.

Bay Bridge
by Alice Oshiki

So we're driving
The bay bridge, at night,
After the long journey North,

Sailing over dark waters,
And seeing from afar,
This gift, so lovely! Rising

On blue-black hills
In a clear-eyed vision

As if for the first time --
Embarcadero lights, and

All the finery of lights,
Setting the city afire.

Of course we find ourselves saying,
In that pleased sort of way,
"This is my city --
I just love it here!"

* * *

So we're exiting onto the streets
In our speeding cocoons. Hurtling

Through to the other end of Market,
Ignoring what doesn't fit the script
Of this city we love.

So what if we see an unruly-haired man
in thick-soled shoes
Pushing a cart heaped with blankets?

"It's urban living," we say,
thinking only of ourselves.
(And I think you know what I mean.)

* * *

And so we chase on, indifferent witness
To the presence of the dispossessed,
Huddled under the overpass,
living on the streets.

Cars roar silently, voices mute,

Deaf to what rages
In forgotten doorways,

While my city burns.

An "If Only" Hour
by Claire J. Baker

A man lies in a field
near a soggy mattress --
winter grass trapped
under his body
like flattened flags.

An old coat covers his face
and one arm; insects crawl
over his hand -- no sign
of life or death,
sleep or anguish.

Why for us to see as we stroll
to loosen rain-stiff legs?
Leave him be? Walk away?
How often we mortals
need to be gods.

Traveling Combat Boots
by Claire J. Baker

How many boots lined up
on Civic Center malls to
convince that war is useless,
uncivilized, as out of step
as maniacs and governments
that support such measures!

These boots fill with sun,
wind, rain, frost, snow,
dust, dried and fresh tears.
Flowers in some,
in most others none.

Another pair is added:
the soldier, age 20, days from
tour-duty completed --
at last to be with wife, and
baby born while he steered
a Black Hawk over Mosul.

Boots lined up, the number
growing in cities all over America.

by Christopher Robin

The mentally ill
That wave water pistols
The blacks that wave wallets
And can't surrender fast enough...
The animals that weren't cute enough
The animals that made the mistake
Of being born delicious
The trannies that can't hide the mistake
Of being born wrong...
The self-taught publishers
Who overflow the toilets
In the Borders bathroom
The lone poet
Who furiously walks the street
Thinking "maybe around the next corner...
The world will show me some light"
The service workers
Who spend their pay in the local bars
And their imaginations on satellite dishes
Prisoners who make our goods for no pay
The muddy trumpet players
With their songs of drowning
On America's rooftops...
The musty bookstores of my childhood
With shelves that went on forever and
Kept me from the taunting of schoolmates...
The roadside fruit stands we passed
On the way to Christmas in Soledad
The high rents here
Will send my friends away:
The potters who can't sell their pots
Musicians whose notes are out of time
Poets who can't sell their revolutionary poem
For a crust of bread from a bird's beak
We're not the chosen ones
And nobody's buying anyway
So get on SSI or find a better hustle,
A barn, a roach-infested shoebox
At the El Palomar
Or maybe a room at El Centro
Where they didn't find the body
And the fluids dripped through the floor
Into the restaurant below
And then there's always that old standby
The bridge behind Denny's
Where I used to drink coffee,
Crawl into my bag
And scribble poetry onto the concrete wall
Not waiting for a publisher
Just the light of day

In Case of Emergency Please Call God
by Judy Jones

"oh god
somebody help me,
oh please" she shrieked
"jus can't take pushing
this grocery cart
no more"

"everyone lookin at me
pity in their eyes
jus HELP me
oh god please"

a homeless woman's
piercing screams
echo in the night

doesn't anybody hear
have all hearts
turned to stone

lettin a poor ol woman
live and die on the streets
pushing all she owns
in her grocery cart home

mornin light
she may never see
people settin
homeless on fire
as they sleep

"oh god
somebody help me,
oh please" she shrieked
can't take pushing
this grocery cart
no more"

last nite
ol homeless woman died

and pinned to her ragged dress
was a sign that read

"In Case of Emergency
Please Call God"

out in the cold
by Randy Fingland

surely it's not
divine design
to leave certain
folks unsheltered
but idea
of some intel-
ligent minor
ity who park
on the doorstep
as they push
inside to a
dry, warm welcome

Must the Homeless...
by Claire J. Baker

Must the homeless become robots
so they won't have to struggle
to eat or sleep -- robots, so they
won't see the dark side, so they'll
move ahead even more stiffly
than they already do, obeying
commands from the police?

Must the homeless become robots
so they won't get depressed,
won't feel like weeping?

by Christopher Robin

Told I'm slow
I move at half the world's speed
2 sizes
2 big
black Converse
stay 2 cups of coffee
of the insults
one good arm
for waving
at trains
my best eye
stepping on used needles
and layin my pennies
down on the track
leg muscles taut
head down
in hood
for the revolution
we'll all be walking
and eyes on the ground
now I practice
collecting discarded fruit from the trees
which I happily eat
as if I am the lone survivor
of a suburban apocalypse
you'll see them on TV
outdoing us all:
the blind climb Mount Everest
amputees play the piano
the 'locked-in' invent their own alphabet
don't know what excuse I have
for a guy stuck in the 4th grade
you gotta be a genius of something
but I figure
they'll kill you either way
with a glassy stare
or run you over
when you're peering into the gutters
of your neighborhood
clothing in shreds
frantic for a spark
anything that can still catch fire...
all I'm doing is telling secrets
telling on myself
and telling on you
I hate Oprah anyway

Shadow Woman
by Joy Bright McCorkle

I felt her presence long before I saw her.
I looked down and saw sneakers mended with duct tape, way too big
She was dripping rainwater from her lavender printed pants.
Her jacket was of leather but soaked clean through.

She wore a skull cap, tilted, trying to cover her matted hair, 12 inches above her scalp.
"May I come home with you? I am so very cold and wet."
Her hair was white with lice and she scratched her arms without mercy.
Her first shower in countless months lasted an hour and a half.
She was trying to rid herself of human mange.

Her head was swollen three times its normal size which made her dazed eyes look
like little pig eyes. Even the doctors of the homeless didn't know why her head
was swollen, possibly the poisons from the lice. She knew better than to sleep in
a discarded sleeping bag, but the abandoned bag was warm and dry.
She was wet and cold with no roof to protect her.
She knew not to put on an abandoned ski mask but she had lost her hat.

She is not alone on the streets.
There are thousands of shadow women trying not to look homeless.
She flies no signs, she doesn't beg, she doesn't turn tricks, or steal.
Once, she was a middle class matron.
She had the "right" dishes, even her plasticware was "the" thing to have.
She got a new car every two years. She read Vogue magazine.

Now, after ten years on the streets, she couldn't remember how to work a stove.
Now she lives on Fritos, potato chips, pretzels, and Pepsi.
She was terrified that if she applied for Social Security benefits, her family
would find her and have her committed for life. She feared that if she took
government money, there would be nothing left for her old age.
Finally, after years of being "gravely disabled," we got her to sign the application.

For years she had joined the unknown number of women who wander
like the stray dogs of New York. She had a route she walked every morning.
Some stores gave her a donut, others a hot dog.
As she stood outside the doorways of specific businesses, sometimes people pressed
a dollar into her hand. She lowered her head and mumbled, "thank you."

When the night began to fall she would begin the walk to find a safe place to sleep.
She carried no sleeping bag or garbage bag to identify her as a homeless woman.
She prayed that where she stashed her meager belongings
had not been looted over the day.

The voices are still shrieking at her relentlessly but
it's going to start raining tomorrow... the winter has begun.
But this year is different, she got benefits and housing.
Now, this year, she can look out her window at the rain and turn up the heat.
This year, her 51st, she will be warm and dry.

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

E-mail: Spirit

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Published by American Friends Service Committee

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