The January 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Religious Witness with Homeless People

Memorial for Homeless Deaths in East Bay

Remember Rosa Parks: Justice in Public Transit

Justice is Pushed to Back of Bus

Big Brother Watches the Poor

Homeless Woman Works to Survive

Let Justice Roll: Raise the Miserly Minimum Wage

Richmond Courts Unfair to Poor

War Profiteer Parties Hearty

Poets Against the War Machine

Poems for the Poorman

Poems in Spirit of St. Francis

Songs of Our Shared Humanity

Psychotic Breaks

How to Deal with Pain and Fear


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.

Poets Against the War Machine

"A History of the 20th Century." Artwork by Art Hazelwood

Candlelight Vigil
by Claire J. Baker

Passin' on: we all will,
but before we take that Big Trip
let's pass on the torch of peace
and justice: be counted as one
who held a candle in a vigil beside
over 2000 pairs of empty combat boots
of soldiers killed fighting an unjust war.
Let us whisper, as our face warms
and eyes glow with light:
"All wars are unjust, they prove/win
nothing but trauma, a family
shattered, stress, homelessness,
a maimed body and soul."

My friend with the real
or symbolic candle, remember
boots, boots, all the empty
boots down the war-filled years
which leave a legacy of tears.

by Jonika Mountainfire

The darkness around us is deep.

Through the flames of Baghdad
we may begin to see
that the giants we have loosed
upon the world are blind --
Through the terrible noise and smoke,
we may begin to make out
the darkness around their helicopters
as they crash into each other;
the darkness underneath their tanks
as they trample the earth;
the darkness around their bombs
as they fall through empty space--

Through the flames of Baghdad
we may begin to wonder why
God would speak to us
through the mouth of a wooden little boy,
his eyes darting back and forth, looking
for the love he will never find --
Through the stink of burning flesh
we may begin to wonder why
we would believe the lies of old men
who talk to us with frightened little boys
sitting on their laps; hungry Titans
who couldn't kick the habit of eating
their own children, but were able
to have themselves embalmed in gold
at the height of their powers --
A time, long-forgotten now,
when we were enjoying the spoils
of a war in which millions of soldiers
had died on battlefields far from home;
in which Nazis had gassed their own civilians
face to face in secret camps,
and we incinerated millions more from the air --
suffocating them or burning them alive
in their own cities as we bombed them
in Hamburg and Cologne, in Frankfurt and Dresden;
in Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki --
while our own great cities remained untouched
and our people rejoiced in the streets.

One passing moment in history,
to be sure -- but a time
when these young princes of democracy
were so glad to be alive and so dazzled
by the empire which had fallen into their laps;
a time when they were so amazed by the secrets
of the Atom, which had been given to them --
and to them, alone! --
that they could only see such wonders
as a commandment from God,
to remake the world in their own image.

When we begin to feel the blood of Baghdad
falling on our heads -- slowly at first,
like fat drops of rain on dry soil
after a long drought --
we will know that it is falling
from a time and a place
which no one
will ever see

Dedicated to Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), an English poet whose "Parable of the Old Man and the Young" was published two years after his death in the trenches of World War I.

Gone with the Wind
by Claire J. Baker

America has declared twelve
outside wars (Revolutionary
all the way up to Iraq)
43 million soldiers serving,
650,000 dying, not to mention
the wounded in body, spirit, mind,
many of whom become homeless
from being lost, helpless,
abandoned after the horror.

Sadly add to these 12 wars
the Civil War, brother against brother,
blue against gray, the south burning,
"gone with the wind,"
yet war not gone far enough
to never come back.

Big Canvas Ball World
(Peace Game at Anti-Nuke Rally)
by Claire J. Baker

A boy twirls the world with his feet.
Three children push, run in front,
the world rolls over them.
A man jumps on top. The ball
starts moving, we all give chase.
A poet has her photo taken beside it.
An old man hugs it, struggles to
encircle the painted planet.
A soldier bounces a balloon on Brazil.
Gulls wheel above, dipping wildly.
A blind girl feels the world all over.

A beautiful autumn day
when all eyes are on the world --
how to love it, how to save it.

by Jonika Mountainfire

The future enters into us in order to transform
itself in us, long before it happens.
-- R. M. RILKE

Many years ago, the mother of all
who coil and strike,
soar and dive, leap and fall,
walked the earth among her children
and kept them company.
But even then, so long ago,
our mother Gaia was tired --
and after all is said and done,
can you really blame her?
Her womb was sore, and her dugs
hung down to her knees;
her gorge was full,
and all she wanted was to puke.
She was old, she was tired,
and yes -- she was frightened, too.

So Gaia looked around
for a place to rest her weary bones,
and noticed that some of her children
lived in fine houses and slept
on soft beds under animal skins.
They had wine to drink,
and fires to keep them warm --
fire, a gift from Prometheus himself,
who had defied Zeus to plunder Olympus
and carry the first glowing ember
down to Earth for the consolation
and delight of mortals --
fire, whose dancing shadows
could tell them stories
as they flickered in eerie silence
across thick walls of stone.

"How long," Gaia asked these children
of hers, watching them in their slumbers:
"How long have I protected you?
How many years have I carried you
in my arms, and how many times
have I hidden your dreams
beneath the sacred places of holy Earth?
-- Why should I not come in from the cold?"

And so one night,
when there was no moon,
Gaia made herself invisible and entered
the houses of mortal men and women
around the world.
Without a breath, without a sound,
she crept into their beds
and slipped softly into their dreams.
But even there, Gaia could find no peace.
She was so old and so tired,
so frightened and so sick,
that she kept on going -- sinking
farther down into the soft, welcoming flesh,
into the eternal darkness
where no light or sound could reach her
except the beating of our hearts -
and there, at last, she allowed herself
to fall asleep.

Gaia slept for more years
than anyone can count, dreaming
dreams no mortal will ever know.
She slept until the day she smelled
the smoke of bodies burning
in Dachau and Buchenwald.
She slept until she heard the screams
of children running for the rivers
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
to extinguish their own burning flesh --
and she could sleep no more.

"Monsters!" she bellowed,
leaping from her bed --
"Have you no pity at all?
Would you burn the whole world up,
if you could? -- Let me out of here,
God damn your eyes! Let me out!"

Rested and full of fire,
Gaia was ready to walk the earth
and rule the world once again --
only to discover that she was trapped
in the bellies of her own children,
who had long since forgotten
the terrible promise Zeus had made
to their benefactor Prometheus
at the beginning of time:
"As the price for fire, I shall give
these mortals an evil thing --
a kind of hopefulness that will blind them
to their own mortality, and gladden
their hearts even as they embrace
their own destruction!"

The day that Gaia woke up,
people everywhere were seized
by dark forebodings --
as they realized that their own mother
had become a kicking, screaming fetus,
clamoring to get out of their bodies!
"If having a baby is like shitting a basketball,"
the bravest of them began to wonder -
"What, God forbid! would it be like
to give birth to the Earth?"

when appropriate
by Randy Fingland

behavior in the abattoir
is expected
to remain unphased
in the early phases
of anti-social glory
placed randomly
into the rows that occupy
flanders field

farm kids
small town family patriots
hitched up to learn a trade
or trade time for school
to get a job, sha na na

have a decent life
in spite of the steady stare
experienced in day-to-day
engagement with the enemy
once back in civvies

gentle with rage
until the whites of their eyes
come eye-to-eye
combat weary

to crash wave after wave
against the cruel love
riprap shores of toughened streets

Billy the Kid at the Anti-War Protest
by Julia Vinograd

Billy the Kid wasn't kidding around.
He shrugged himself thru history like a human cactus,
all that paper tore at his touch.
A book of thorns, grinning when he emptied his guns.
I had a history book in eighth grade that was so boring
it would've put sheep to sleep.
I'd come home, huge dry leaves crackling under my shoes
like popcorn or bullets and I'd do history homework
till I couldn't bear it anymore.
Then I'd put the book face down so numbing facts
couldn't get out and ruin my day
and I'd go play with Billy and watch him kill people.
Billy shot people when he was drunk
or when they looked at him funny
but most of the time there wasn't a reason till afterwards
and it wasn't a good idea to ask.
Billy spun both smoking guns before he put them back
in their holsters and laughed.
He had a missing front tooth and freckles.
Billy ran his fingers thru his hair when he was hungry.
I couldn't stay too long or his guns got spooked
by my shadow. Billy himself didn't bother,
I was only sort of there and it's no fun shooting someone
who can't bleed.
Besides, I had to be back in time for dinner and history.
Memorize dates of battles and write a boring book report
pretending something happened in a war,
I can't remember which war.
I got older. I joined anti-war protests, marches,
speeches against senseless killing.
One night I dreamed of Billy the Kid.
He wasn't any older. "Armies?" he scoffed,
"these men take orders, do you think I'd let anyone
give me orders? They're as bad as that posse getting up after me
pretty soon. These poor fools kill people they're sent to kill;
a real man kills people he chooses for his own reasons."
"But Billy," I stammered, "you never had any reasons."
He looked at me as if I were crazy.
"I killed them because I wanted to, that's my reason.
Soldiers just want to go home but they're stuck killing
thousands more than I ever did till someone else decides
they can stop. That's history. All the books about it are the same.
If I was alive I might even join your protest, " he winked at me.
"Killing should never be wasted on people who can't appreciate it.
Send all the soldiers home to take orders at work and sell things
and be polite to customers.
There's not many like me.
The wind is my country.
I'm pure as a rattlesnake.
You can still come play with me anytime."

Veteran's Day 2005
by Teddy Bakersfield

I live behind an iron gate
Where an American flag
Stands proud and tall
Under a blazing sun on Canyon Road
In Santa Fe New Mexico

And I support my president

And all he stands for

But we could be discussing any place
In this great country
For the working man, the soldier man
The homeless man live in countless places
Across the land

And I am he who gives them jobs
I am he who sends them off to fight the wars
I am he who allows them to sleep on the city streets
It is I who dictate all of this

And if you look carefully
You will see what I describe is true
From Canyon Road to Gallup New Mexico
From St. Francis Woods
To Hunters Point in San Francisco

For this is the status quo

So as I stand here today
Looking at the mass graves
Of the fallen soldiers
And see the flags and headstones
Glistening in the sun

I stand proud

Then remember those who are working this day
Supporting their families
Keeping the American dream alive
At the Wal-Mart stores I own

The homeless too should be inspired by this
Bravery and industry to go to work
For America is the land of the free
The home of the brave
Where everyone has an equal opportunity

Yet since some do not appreciate
All that has been done for them
They steal others' property
And must be weeded out and sent
To the privatized prisons I operate

And because of the rising number of these crimes
I too must be surrounded by armed guards
To protect my estate

So no one can trespass

No one can enter my private sanctuary
Behind the iron gate
On Canyon Road
In Santa Fe New Mexico

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

E-mail: Spirit

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Editor : Terry Messman

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