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.

Poems in the Spirit of St. Francis

What Saint Francis Saw
by Jan Steckel

Saint Francis of Assisi,
when you saw that chariot of fire,
when you dined al fresco with Saint
Clare in celestial fire that does not burn,
did you see, eight centuries later, in
a city on the sea, a city named for you,
a man torch his brother?

The news item appeared next to an ad
for a golden-brown Thanksgiving turkey:
homeless man set on fire,
sleeping on Beale Street
in San Francisco's Financial District.
All that digital gold clinking
around him in virtual coffers, and not
one electronic ducat to buy his dinner.

Someone poured -- brandy?
No, gasoline, and lit him up
like a Christmas pudding.
The other men sleeping under the bridge
awoke salivating from dreams
of the smell of seared meat.
They yelled, take off your clothes!
Roll on the ground!
but he just stood there screaming.

A security guard found him
engulfed in flames, walking in circles.
"Did you call 911?"
cried the burning man.
One 39-year-old black man roasted alive,
transported with burns all over his body
to St. Francis Memorial Hospital
where it took him twelve hours to die.

Saint Francis, in all your visions,
when flames of divine love
played around your head
and proceeded from your mouth,
when they brought the cauterizing iron
white-hot to your failing eyes,
did you see this?

In the City of St. Francis
(Memorial for Homeless Who Died)
by Claire J. Baker

A three-day, long white wall
of names near City Hall.
Such a short reflective time:
death and brief walls do not rhyme.

We poet friends, not forsaken,
had our photo taken, retaken
standing in front of 2,000 names,
our vocabularies whirling, our shames

that we two elders in black on a bright
September day held not enough light
to warm a corner of their souls,
these fallen forsaken with empty bowls.

Counting the homeless dead will resume
a grim reminder, immemorial gloom.

Ode To Those Dead And Forgotten
by Mitchell Zeftel

I'm weeping and I wept all night,
yet I'm trying to sing praises
to those cremated and unknown,
maybe unknowable.
Last night on public radio, they
spoke of a mass funeral in Seattle
for two hundred homeless --
those who had no one to bury them.
Two hundred vials of ash --
O Virgin, save them -- and they
were blessed by authentic clergy
so as to destroy, say,
a conspiracy of silence
which shrouds the saddest eyes.
People found in flat, dusty rooms,
broken Safeway carts.
Yes, they died with no image
in their mirrors.
I've been weeping so much
maybe my tears should bring
a new kind of stained glass window,
because they, the forgotten, stained
their blood on the winds of Seattle.
O Lord, remember their names.
O Virgin, let their blood
be stained also in your eyes.

He Not Only Maketh
by Holman Monell

"He maketh the rain to fall on the just and the unjust."
It seems the rain falls more than needed
for the drinking earth which must
slake her thirst-but who has heeded
these moral matters? Quakers maybe --
but not that Richard Nixon -- hardly
a friend to the poor, nor did he,
from the evidence, think what
just and unjust mean
just don't get caught more often than
necessary -- this keeps falling down
and friendless friends sleep homeless
in this town.

Mary's Crucified
by Joan Clair

Mary's in the starving mother dog,
agony in her face as she races around
on a mound at an intersection
surrounded by cars.
Mary's in her starving body
with its beaten bones sticking out
except where unborn babies bulge
and her nipples drag on the ground.
Mary's crucified in each act of cruelty
which led to her homelessness.

Wherever She Is
by Joan Clair

"And the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God."
-- Revelation 13:6

Wherever she is, I know she's not in her
body, a ravaged cigarette put together
from scraps of tobacco left in tobacco
stubs found in the garbage or on the street.

Wherever she is, I know
she's not a devoured body
sitting in a doorway asking for change.

Wherever she is, she's where her
tears ran, some 70 and more years ago,
when parents and public servants,
grown cold and closed,
laughed at and denied a little girl's tears
and walked by her soul;
as today they walk by the body
she's no longer in.

Wherever she is, I know
she's not in a black leather miniskirt
sitting on a park bench
waiting for more depraved hunger.

by Chris Trian

Jesus Mary and Joseph!
I am trapped in the brick-walled
society of soul death
in a Kafka nightmare
of middle-class material values.
The open streets beckon me
to run out into their mouths
screaming, "Take me, Oblivion!"
But I have seen my brothers
and my sisters shoveled into vans
and I know there is
no idealism in their death.
Homeless in my own home,
I have to fight
for a chance to paint or write
or Pray to God
beyond this cage of flesh and bone.
"Hail Mary, full of Grace,"
where is the grace
in these tarantula legs
sprouting from my three-piece suit?
Where is my eucharist of love
among the cold rotting
food in my refrigerator?
"Our Father who art in heaven,"
is Art really in heaven?
Or must we be whipped
like Penitents through the streets
until our blood mixes with soil
and masterpieces of martyrdom

spring up like psychedelic
mushrooms to be eaten
by the Agape Cults of the future,
when Great White Sharks
run the world from Pentagons of
mind control and misinformation.
Lord, am I not also lord
of the dance today?
Will the nails go through
my goat hooves as well?
I am Rudolph Nureyev
trapped in the body
of a giant toad.
I have a house and car,
I am so lucky.
But my possessions
glow with emptiness
like the hold of a ghost ship
where wounded soldiers
died in transport across the sea,
screaming in agony.
"Father take this cup
away from me,"
though it is full of paint
and I must paint or die.
Though it is full of words
and I must write
or live like a wolf
among predatory humans.
"But if it is thy will, not mine"
because I am a tool
A hammer with no handle,
just determination
A saw with broken teeth
like a wino's mouth
or the devil's harpsichord,
only the black keys showing.
Broken teeth and broken heart.
Homeless streets
and people full of houses
where murders take place.
"Father forgive them,"
but I'm afraid
they know damned well
what they do.
They do to us
what was done to them.
They outlaw living
in any space at all.
They forbid touch.
And most of all
they prohibit laughter.
Because laughter is
our inoculation against fear.
They ARE fear, and they dare
to call US paranoid.
Theirs is the religion of hate
and ours is the science
of Love.
The technology of survival.

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

E-mail: Spirit

© 2002-2005 STREET SPIRIT. All rights reserved.

Published by American Friends Service Committee

Editor : Terry Messman

Web Design: Robert Mills, Web Weaver CyberB Solutions