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.

Songs of Our Shared Humanity

Deep Gratitude
by Charlotte Tall Mountain

Deep gratitude is not a verb but
a place of being

It is a sense of intimacy even
with things first seen.

It is a kind of mutual regard that
happens when one is momentarily
moved beyond the petty and not so
petty forays of life

It is a caress of wonder neither
possessive nor in judgment

It is the acknowledgment of essence,
the stuff that can not be altered
even though erased

It is both specific and archetypal

As an archetype, we are touched in ways
beyond reason, moved in ways unseen

We are wise to respect this and
foolish if we do not.

Wisdom is this deep gratitude, a place
of harmony with what is.

Giving & Receiving Precious Gifts
by Peter E. Sandholdt

A child's smile
Children's laughter
Taking your hand in their's
A hug

The gifts of sight and sound:
First steps
First word

First kiss from someone you care for
Holding hands
And always the hug

The hug conveys everything
that cannot be put into words
It shows caring and concern
Creates no obligation
Pure -- Simple

A hug
A marvelous gift to give
A marvelous gift to receive

Small and precious gift
A baby giggle
A person singing

Gifts that touch the heart and soul
Anything that tugs at your heart strings
Is a precious gift
Memories of days gone by

Small gifts seem to be the most precious

by Husayn Sayfuddiyn

We all need a Crash Course
On how to be a Human Being
An Emergency Task Force
Because Human is not what I'm seeing.
Back to the Beginning
To our first dawning Sun
To pose a few questions regarding your
Humanity 101
Like creating friends instead of enemies
Bonded outside the profit equation
Imperfection needs no sustaining
Should we all seek Peace instead of the Hell we're raising?
Should we preach against the Rich instead of for them?
Should we learn how to share in lieu of graft and whoredom?
How about Healing for Life instead of How to Kill for Love?
And learning that your emblem for Peace, the Eagle, is not a Dove
Recognizing the right to work is a right to a livable wage
To know that a nurse is just as valuable as an actress on a stage
That the Earth is our Treasure House, every rock and tree
And when we abuse them we become Nature's enemy
Golems of its own creation
Misperceiving that its Humanity is an Occupation
The Earth is a Trust and We its Trustees
But now as destroyers in camouflaged fatigues
In silk suits in cities making gas
In first, second and third class
In tanks or on bulldozers
submarines and land rovers
Preaching the Pearly Gates that you're now evading
With Mind Scam and Inside Trading
From the beautiful balloons they fly
That come crashing from the sky
Amidst the secrecy and lies to be revealed Tomorrow
When the children cry and die from the sorrow
Of the past from which they can't borrow
In dead yesterday, their fates were cast in steel
Never knowing which face is Human
Which one is Real?

Just As He Had Said
by Jeannette A. Hundley

Green, luscious, mountainous, vast;
We climbed those hills and thickets at last;
Glorious nature awaited us
Raw, pure, peaceful, calm;
just as he had said.

Within the brush Rhododendrons grew wild;
red, orange, purple hues;
More color palettes we could see
Radiant buds on rugged weeds,
Green graceful ferns beneath the trees,
Paradise it seemed to me.

Finally we were there, at the little creek he loved;
The one he played at as a child,
The one he recalled with a gleam in his eye,
Sometimes with a tear.

There was no pavement here;
only wilderness, majestic and calm;
wooded intrigue stretching afar.

Stillness, silence is all we could hear,
Except for God's creatures occasionally near,
quail, deer running loose;
Sweet sounds of song birds soothing my fear.

I scattered his ashes as he wished;
and watched them travel that little creek,
No more suffering, no distress
The time had come for him to rest.

There I stood, where he once stood,
One last time I heard him speak;
I knew now what he tried to say
for all those twenty years.

It seemed so strange what I had not known
about the country boy I married;
West Virginia mirrored heaven,
just as he had said.

by Chris Trian

I remember when there were bums.
Good, honest bums.
I sat in the back seat
of my Dad's '56 Chevy
and he pointed at a corner
of Third Street and Howard
in San Francisco,
which is now
a yuppie paradise
of leibensraum*
[*German for the "living space"
that the Nazis wanted.]

The bums were SOMEBODYS.
They were not "homeless,"
not defined by what
they didn't have.
They were people who had something.
I didn't know what it was.
My Dad didn't know what it was.
Perhaps it was something different
for each person.

For one it was anger at
World War II or Korea.
For another it was a life
of drinking cheap wine
and talking with his buddies.
For another,
it was a place to meet men
who gave her money
for a simple act of touch,
a simulation of love.
No, REAL love.
Because touch between people
back then was love.
There had been two World Wars
held together by the mayonnaise
of the Great Depression.
And even the memory
of that Depression
gave substance
to these people
everyone called bums.

"I'm a BUM," you'd hear one sing.
On TV, Red Skelton played
"Freddy the Freeloader."
Do I date myself? That was 1963.
Does it matter?
You see, life was defined
by what it was
not by what was missing.

Now we walk
the streets of WITHOUT.
Whether in our heads
or our hearts or souls
or on television or the radio.
Whether in Church
or between the sheets of love.
"Was it good for you?"
ask trembling lovers.
As if ever fullness of ANYTHING,
even hatred,
was inferior to an emptiness
of any kind.

We walk the streets of without.
Without pride or prejudice.
Without hunger or thirst.
Without poverty or disease.
Without a blanket to keep us alive.
The half full glass of water
has turned half empty,
and backward we march
into the future of emptiness.
And that is why we now have
And even our homes are homeless.
And the sun, too, is homeless.
And honest darkness gives way
to a dishonest lack of light.
And everyone is afraid
of freezing alone
in a void of without.
When to have
and to hold
and to be,
are like three old-fashioned
standing on Third and Howard St.,
or three ripe cherries,
a little bit dirty,
a little bit sweaty,
held in the palm of a little girl.
She gives two to her
favorite little boy,
because she loves him.
Because love is always
presence, not absence.
And because hope
always beats fear.
Because even in my house
I am a Bum.
And when I know this
I am not afraid.
And then I build a bridge
so the whole world will not be afraid

Winter Lifeline
by Claire J. Baker

Often as I sit in
my old red truck,
read the classics so
I can write w/class,
as God knows I must,

beams of sunshine find
my hand. I know I'll
read/write my way
through another winter,
go home to lifeline soup.

Where do poets who live
on the streets stash pen/
pad? Where, Dear God, goes
genius deferred? Where is
hot soup for all poets?

by Joan Clair

On my way home in the dark
from the poetry reading
of the renowned poet,
I saw a pregnant mother cat
running frantically in the street
in between cars;
and the complicated words
which I had not understood
became meaningless.

Park Bench
by Claire J. Baker

Unbelievable that I'd be
sitting on a park bench
on Nowhere Street
counting fingers/toes
to see if I'm all here --
me, a gutsy senior poet,
a peace&justice advocate,
mother's precious offspring
sitting here among the homeless,
among pigeon-toed
pigeons, getting a small taste
of what it's like to be
on the fringes of society.

Coffee Shop Prayer
by Claire J. Baker

You and I are lonely.
Let us drink coffee together
and forget all that harms.

As we turn from concrete and
steel invading the sky, become
warm worlds unto ourselves.

We need each other
for we are dwarfed in cityness,
mute, else our rebellion explode.

Let us clink steaming cups,
drink deeply of humanity.

The Countess of Flatbroke
by Mary Meriam

I shun the man-made world and stay at home.
This suits the world, since I am very queer.
I eat my spinach quiche and write a poem.
I like my chair and bed; it's pleasant here.
Except one little problem, namely cash,
which threatens to undo my little life.
The bank account is headed for a crash.
The fridge is empty-where's my working wife?
What happens when a poet lives beyond
the time she would have died, except for fate?
A strange career, but not designed to bond
somebody to a steady job this late.
I have no skills in generating wealth.
I've spent my time recovering my health.

Word Beat
by Mary Meriam

The sea that sometimes frightens us, the beat
of words, where rhyme and rhythm intertwine,
and how he pushed it back and made a seat
in space and time to rest, expand, recline.
We sing together steady at the Med.
She felt a nightmare like a winding stair.
She flung herself from room to room. She read
the poem, hung the pictures, moved the chair.
And dreaming for a while I was alive,
like pearls on rope, I built the rooms for you.
I miss you. Will you help me to survive?
And stumble through the narrow gates, and do
a clammy foggy fishy sunlit dance?
By Telegraph and Dwight, you'll have a chance.

This sonnet is a collage of words from the Word Beat website and poems by David Gollub ("The Same Song" and "Absence of a Large Lerner"), Debra Grace Khattab ("Tying Down Rita's Loose Ends"), and Jan Steckel ("The Sea That Sometimes Frightened Us").

The Grope of a Pen
by Jeannette A. Hundley

Today the monster returned to my realm
Without any warning, he forced his way in
Tormented and fearful I tried running away
Afraid of myself and lack of restraint
Not wanting to live, but not ready to die
A frightening torturous state of mind

He comes with a knife
So long and so sharp
Piercing so deep
The blood runs inside

What have I done?
Wat have I said?
It doesn't matter to him
So the experts do say
It's just the child
That brings him my way

But who is this child that he seeks within me
I'm a grown woman, shouldn't I be free?

Blessings, oh blessings, please let me recall
I tell myself often when he comes to my door

There's Christopher Stephen-the love of my life
My son, my savior, doesn't that suffice?
I know he's a man and has his own life
Besides, it is I that must learn to survive

Reminding myself, though, others are there
Somehow starts soothing the little child's tear
I know she can make it; I know it will pass
It's happened before; I don't let it last

I thank the power in the grope of a pen
Mysteriously sweeping me away from the end

I Know This
by Irene Kahn

After nearly 80 years
clarity of reason for Being
has become clear as I mature.
I see that I was born, like all creatures,
to take care of my mind, body and spirit,
while being aware of what is happening:
every moment.
I accept what IS, but not as grim;
rather in awe to realize good in everyone,
and everything that happens.
All possibilities are positive
and roads to sanity and happiness.
They all return to love and a life force
that returns my love for them

When I was about 8 years old,
I started to ask myself who I was to be like
(not my mother for sure).
I imitated talk, walk, attitudes
of aunts, actresses, and teachers.
It was not until I was in my 50s when
I understood that I was supposed to be me!
I started to understand purpose in life:
to love and to care for oneself

It was not until my 50s when I understood:
I was supposed to be ME to love
and to care for that self
My path became clearer from a decision in my
late 30s to adopt or not a Black Jewish baby
(not a popular decision at the time).
From a dream I received a loud, clear message:
"just because the whole world is crazy,
I did not have to be so, too."

Another loud, clear message came
in my early 60s from a near death accident:
"God wants you to live,"
which meant to me loving fully all of life-
and to know that I am not in charge-
the life force wants Life.

I am here to care for that life.

Tarot Readers On The Street
by Julia Vinograd

On every corner. Rickety folding tables
covered with purple velvet. Or a lace shawl.
Some wear turbans got at flea markets.
Some wear handmade black capes patched
with lopsided, drunken-looking stars.
Some wear a highwayman's hat with a huge tickling plume
no bird would be caught dead with.
The cards. An occasional crystal.
A chair waiting for you.
"Have facts been bruising you up every rushed breakfast?
Are you thrown down the garbage disposal
you promised to fix?
Is the new guy at work smiling too much lately?
Sit. The cards have noble dangers you'll avoid
thru the power hidden in your avoiding eyes.
Look up and watch the world catch its breath.
You will meet a mysterious stranger in the mirror,
keep looking until you recognize yourself.
The nightmare won't ride you tonight,
you'll ride her bareback.
You'll take a long journey all night
over ruined gardens on the noon
and bring home a bouquet of smiles.
Don't use them where they'll do the most good,
waste them magnificently.
Of course you don't believe me,
what have the things you believed got you?
Hang out with the hanged man.
Throw a stick for the fool's dog to chase over the cliff.
Remember when you built your son the falling tower
from a house of cards and he laughed
and hugged you when it fell?
Now he slams doors and stays out late.
I know nothing about you. I care nothing.
But the cards cannot forget you
the way you've forgotten yourself.
"Remember," the cards whisper. "Remember."

That Poor Creature
by Holman Monell

That poor creature bedded down for the night
in that doorway there-no place to call home,
this the home, the door way to nowhere and
everywhere-you could know how dreadful life
can sometimes be-how cruel circumstances can
be at times-at times like these. What shall we do?
We see and do not see, hear and not hear
crimes against humanity are here charged against
the race of man-now, have a beer.

by Julia Vinograd

Circle of drummers, big hands, spilled red wine.
Breaking and entering a dictionary,
knocking all words into a senseless heap,
stealing the sky, raping the clocks.
The time it takes a bead of sweat to roll
from a drummer's glistening black collarbone
to just above his belly-button is the only time left.
A girl with cheap bright bracelets
jangling up both arms
and colored beads in her hair
holds her tambourine hummingbird
still above her head
and throws her body about beneath it.
Her breasts aren't speaking to each other
and her whirling, scarlet-skirted knees
are parting company.
Eyes closed, breath coming fast.
A passing guy half leans off his bicycle
and pulls a kazoo from his jean's back pocket,
a whoopie cushion of the gods
squacking among drums that won't let him go.
There's a watching crowd,
the drums won't let them go either,
nooses of sound round tight about their necks
and pulled like a herd
rustled from their owners' schedules.
No jobs here, no homes, no promises.
Drums eat their names and they don't care.
A young guy cracks a wolf grin and abuses
his bruised clarinet, it wails and moans
and he pulls it up by its hair
for crashing fists of drums to pound its soft belly,
and he laughs and laughs,
flashing black mirror shades.
Drummers crouch low, their drums are like
speeding motorcycles
chased by screeching cop cars,
you can't get away with music like that.
Driving with an open container
and the genie half out.
Baby joy, belching Gerber's strained peas and
dribbling them down his dimple without a license.
Demonic possession with intent to sell popcorn.
Breaking the law of gravity, like Van Gogh's ear
shattering a plate glass window.
Loitering at the Pearly Gates to bum cigarettes.
Assault and battery of the reeling mind.
Drums beat music black and blue
and every charge is true.

Handheld Objects
by Mary Meriam

My sister slipped and fell
Into a pit of hell
And so a sharp knife
Of pain became my life

I hold my pen and write
Words to stop the night
From drowning me in black
I want my sister back

Sally worshipped Denny
One day he dropped a penny
She picked it up to hold
But Denny dropped her cold

My sister told me fronds
Of grass are fairy wands
Her dresser drawer had things
Like folded angel wings

My name is Sally Jane
They say that I'm insane
But mommy stole my mind
And locked me up inside
The doctors all agreed
That Sally's constant need
Was pharmaceutical
By syrup, pill, and needle

I'm ten years old, and she's
Sixteen -- no, Sally, please --
She swallows Bayer one
By one-the bottle's done

A wicked witch will trick
Her kids and make them sick
Until they'd rather die
Than eat another lie

I walk the lonely valley
Of longing for my Sally
Imprisoned for no reason
Season after season

She loves the holidays
From institution daze
Eternity TV
The gatekeeper's key

by Charlotte Tall Mountain

No one to tell you that you were precious
No one to tell you, you really mattered
as your life became torn, shattered.

You didn't deserve the physical pain
Just because he was angry and couldn't refrain.

Your cry needed to be heard
You needed to be treated
like an elegant bird.
You needed to feel you had the right
of whether to fly or to land.
Or how someone was going to use
his much larger hand.
You needed to feel safe and at ease.
And not simply be an object
with which he could be pleased.

It was important to know that you could
spread your wing.
That you were someone who could really sing.
You needed to know you were God's holy child
Raised in a family that was loving and mild.

It has taken so long to reclaim this truth.
Now is the time to reclaim your power
You are magnificent, right now in flower.

by Jan Steckel

"Near Querendaro in Michoacan,
where I come from,
just a tiny little country place,
hot springs well up
right next to cold ones.
You can throw a chicken
and some vegetables in the hot spring.
When you fish them out
they're all cooked.
You can eat them warm
with a drink of cool water
from the stream a few feet away."
He's getting nostalgic
with a paper-bagged beer for breakfast,
sitting on the ground
in front of the construction site
where work's been stopped for a week.
He leads me over to his rust-colored van
parked across the street.
"I can't get any sleep at night
because those teenagers
keep kicking the side of the van."
He points to dirty footprints at eye-level.
"Why do they want to torture me like that?"
I don't know how to comfort him,
so I offer him a banana
from the bunch I'm carrying home.
We talk about the difference between
guineos and pl‡tanos, sweet bananas,
starchy ones, fingerling Dominicanitos.
He tears up. "I'll never forget you,"
he says. I figure it's the beer
talking and crying,
but I walk away ashamed
that anyone should be that grateful
for one lousy banana.

Old Man
by Chris Trian

I'm an old man
not in years or appearance.
I'm just fed up.
I walk with the pant legs
of my humanity rolled up
to keep them out of the waves
which roll in every day.

My clothes are old
I don't care any more
about fashion or vanity.
I am not a good man
or a bad man.
I'm just over it all.
Do you understand?
Are you there yet?

The world has not beaten me,
I've beaten the world.
And my soul now
has to be savored.
An old wine in
an old wine skin.
And I'm damned fed up
with the sex and swagger.
With the genocide
on every street corner in America.
Fed up with the traffic lights,
the constant victory of fools.
The inability of the sighted
to see the light
worshiped by the blind.
The light of hope.
They know it's there.
They put it there.
Police barricades block entrance
into the heart and soul.
But it's not the fault of the police.
We wouldn't enter if we could.
It's more comfortable
in the darkness,
in front of the TV,
between the pages of magazines
that wrap us like funeral sheets in
the images on our computer screens.

But don't blame the internet.
We lived in virtual reality
from the beginning.
Virtual cavemen.
Virtual woolly mammoths.
Virtual weapons.
Virtual wars.
Virtual mass destruction.
A few paintings,
pieces of music,
poems, statues, survive
like doorways floating in space.
We are doorways floating in space,
locked against each other,
locked against ourselves.

I'm an old man
not because I've seen too much.
I've been looking for years
and I haven't seen anything.
There are eyes in the palms
of my hands, and they're weeping.
I jam them deep into my pockets.
I hold them up like bouquets of roses
as the nails go through my wrists.
I caress the thighs of my love.
But you don't see love
Love sees YOU.
I am covered with eyes
like the scales of a lizard,
and yet I'm as blind as anybody.
Standing on the corner
of a blind street
in a blind tomorrow.
My white cane is no use
my seeing eye dog
saw a seeing eye cat
and ran away.
The Governor, or somebody,
cut my disability check.
I step into the traffic
of blind SUVs,
but I'm not so lucky.
I make it to the other side.
It's hard to kill yourself
when everyone is dead.
It's hard to be old
when it's so fashionable
to be young.
It's hard to be fed up
when no one has been fed.

But I walk on the beach at night
with my humanity
rolled up to my calves,
as the ocean rolls up its waves
against its terrible children.
What people are.
What people are becoming.
Blind executioners.
As the stars look down
with blank guarded faces,
like witnesses
to the execution.

Ten Names for Fog
(from the San Francisco Bay)
by Nance Wogan

1. Lowly Mist
2. Moisturizer
3. Your Grayness
4. Cloud-from-the-Sea
5. Bewilderment
6. Soft Veil
7. Danger
8. Risk
9. Lord Dimness
10. Ms. Mystique

Poem made from the list

Oh Lowly Mist
Each day you change;
Regal as Your Grayness advances
Slowly down our isles
Each day you are the same.

Does Lord Dimness chase you?
Ms. Mystique?
Or do you tease him
With a new and natural Moisturizer?

Soft Veil, come now
Be like Cloud-from-the-Sea
Who appears and disappears
From the land of Bewilderment.

Gentle as your Veil may be,
Oh Soft one,
You are Danger to me.
Risk is your true name, you know.

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

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