The May 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Oakland Tenants Face Eviction

UC Attacks the Berkeley Freebox

Berkeley Freebox Poetry Contest

Reform Profit-Making Nursing Homes

A Berkeley Fair for Street Youth

Ultimate Gift of a Homeless Veteran

Tax Cuts for Rich Harm U.S.

Many Children Left Behind

S.F. Bayview: History Lesson in Urban Removal

Let Their Chains Fall Off

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Poets and Poetry

May Poetry of the Streets


April 2006

March 2006

February 2006

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.

May Poetry from the Streets

Art by Tiffany Sankary

by Joan Clair

If I had the power
to release pieces of bark and leaves
from eucalyptus trees in the wind,
I would tear the man
who races relentless down the streets
with his shopping cart -
where and when does he sleep? -
from his tree of loneliness
and set him free in another universe
to be at peace in a garden of glory
with every being a friend to his spirit.

may i never be
by Judy Jones

may i never be
so removed
as to not see
the homeless old woman
sleeping on the street

may i never
get so comfortable
i forget those dying
all alone
with no home

may my ears
always hear
the silent tears
moans and groans
of those living
in wretched poverty

i fall on my knees
asking god to please
guide me to do thy will
for those suffering most
all over earth's shores

get the bad people for god's sake

by Judy Jones

saw notice on tv
advising us
"to get the bad people"
and report them to police

in this neighborhood
the only "bad people"
are those allowing
men women and children
to die on the concrete streets
with no shelter food and medical care

when we go home to god
will be interesting to hear the
"real reporting"

did you take me in when I was homeless
did you feed me when I was hungry
did you find me medical aid when
I needed it
did you hold me tightly to your breast
so I didn't have to die alone?

someday I won't hear
by Judy Jones

someday I won't hear
homeless people
pushing grocery carts
down the streets
and rummaging thru
garbage cans

someday I won't hear
their shrieks and moans
in the darkest nites
driving me insane
soakin' in my every pore

yes someday I'll be free
when every man woman and child
has a home
and no one dies hungry sick and alone
on cold concrete streets

and dat day is comin' so soon
yeah baby dat day ain't too far way
it's comin' soon

by Mary Meriam

Little crocus, little springtime
trying to lift off hate,
bodily pain, heartache.
So sincerely purple and yellow
for a moment I do forget,
until another funeral pounds past
and longing sweeps my thoughts
towards you again.
Why is everything so hard
all the time, little father

My Name Is Love
by Claire J. Baker

A Stranger she longed to know
strolled up to her one day.
She questioned the emanation,
"Where in the light are you from
and how long will you stay?"

The gentle Stranger replied,
"I've always lived within you,
do you want to know that land?
My name is Love, I'll take you.
She smiled. He took her hand.

A Couple Questions
(Inspired by Terry Messman)
by Claire J. Baker

My homebody mother expressed:
"It's a sin and a shame."
My professional boxer dad braved:
"Pick up the wreck and move on."
Neither was ever homeless-at least
in a shelter sense of "homeless."

I humbly ponder and pose:
beyond where we avoid darkness,
harsh weather, can cook a daily
meal, enjoy light, heat, A/C
a good book, a comfy chair,

Where do we REALLY live?
What do we really live FOR?

by Chris Trian

We all give up something.
Believing that the streets are magic.
That awesome Christmas tree
in the City of Paris department store
reached up to Fairyland,
with a thousand presents
like a thousand faces of elves
and a million lights like eyes.
That tree was just for us
and we knew it like the assuring, soft
firmness of our mothers' hands.
But then reality intruded
with the ferocity of a walk on a gray day,
and we gave up on magic,
on the feeling of the goodness
of the streets.
Maybe we saw a crime committed,
an accident, blood and twisted metal.
Or that man with no legs on a wheeled board.
The dignity of his massive face and shoulders
Pushing himself down an alley
and into a dark hole in a building.
Maybe we gave up on God
when the church doors were locked,
Or on love when she wouldn't
kiss us on that hillside in the sun.

Everything is lent,
not given forever.
But we can only give up
what we know we can get back -
like our love for fat, juicy, creamy
chocolate-covered desserts,
which are better than sex,
and they never say no
but beg on their knees
to be eaten,
the cream licked off our fingers.

We're here for a short time
in a small space.
Today the whole world
fits on an iPod.
We give up on countries,
civilizations, races, life itself.
Waiting for Jesus to take us away
when he wants us right here
enjoying flesh and Spirit
in abundance.

The crucifixion is not about the soul only,
but also about the body.
Body of Earth, streets like veins,
women and men like blood cells.
Body of Christ like warm baked bread
Do not give up anything.
It is not yours to give up
And now that man on the rolling board
without legs
has multiplied a million-fold
all over this small planet.
He, they, have a right to be there,
they were lent to us
to test our humanity,
lest we give up that too.
Lest we give up our humanity too.

False Prophets
by Chris Trian

There are so many these days
that only those women and men
who hide under blankets
and shun prophecy
for a piece of old
Colonel Sanders' chicken
and a taste of flat beer
can be reckoned
among the wise.
And when they speak of the cold
and what must be done
to survive the night,
and their congregation
is God alone,
they have the audience
of the whole world.

Because God will not
neglect his children
just as only little children
sometimes sing
the praises of The Lord.
And who is this Lord
but the Lord of The Dance.
And children, even in wheelchairs,
know the meaning
of the dance.

But false prophets abound
making war
with words of love.
And many listen.
This is the human heart
turned Anti-Christ collectively;
and there is nothing
in the collection plate
but hand grenades
and discarded Purple Hearts.
The first by the foolish
who think themselves wise.
The second by the wise,
who would rather have plump,
juicy, chocolate Easter eggs
that melt like cruelty
in the mouths of love.

Remembering Chris
by Claire J. Baker

We enter his room,
see the baseball trophy
and high school banner.
A happy child, he used to run
through our morning-glory
back door which, banging,
sounded like a chime
once upon a time.

The boots he wore that last
day in Iraq warm our hands
near the folded American flag.
We pack his things to give away,
knowing he gave us a beautiful
once upon a time --
more than once.

The War at Home
by Ralph Dranow

Spare change?
I'm trying to get back on my feet.
I have a drinking problem.
It started in Viet Nam.
I've been in jail,
Once for six months in Santa Rita
Because I drink. What for?
I didn't steal or hurt anybody.
I've tried different programs.
Sometimes it works for a while
But then I get that craving.
I have a good head,
Worked for a few years
As a computer programmer
And cut back on my drinking.
But my mind wouldn't leave me
alone. "Gotta have that alcohol."
So I started drinking again
And lost my job.
Ever since Viet Nam,
There's been a war
Going on inside me.
I know there's a higher power.
Maybe one day He'll hear my
prayers. Say, could you spare
an extra dollar?

by Margot Pepper

And what if we were allowed to interrupt
the blue phosphorescent faces
that calmly assess our fate

What if we stripped the presses of
their convenient projections,
voicing instead our own objections
to the national debt and immigrant debate

We are not the trespassers
who transformed our cobble-stone streets,
adorned by the twice repossessed
temples to our future,
into war zones:
bombed out and abandoned
like the dreams
hunger consumes.

We are not the trespassers
who engraved malnutrition
into the ancient faces
of our children;
carved servitude
into the knotted driftwood backs
of our campesinos
who must relinquish our food
to the world's table.

We are not the trespassers
who annexed half our nations
hoarding our wealth in hands
as smooth and white
as the teeth of bankers,
las guardias blancas,
la Casa Blanca,
el banco mundial blanco,
though the skin at times may look brown.

And we will not pay one increment more
than the blood and tears
shed like ticker-tape
in the miscarried revolutions
creditors aborted.

For how are we to repay a debt
that is owed us?

Please Sir, tell us, how do we trespass
on land that was first peopled by us?

All that land you pried from the
still-warm fingers of our dead
like artifacts to be sold to private collectors.

All those wares you ripped like flesh
from the ribs of our hungry.

All that land on which we die
like ants in a poison rain when we till it;
like worms for turning garbage to gold.

All those riches all that blood all that sweat.

How are we to repay a debt owed us?

Please, Sir, tell us,
How does one trespass
when a land belongs only to
the rivers, roots and sun?

In Time of Terror
by Claire J. Baker

If we become numb
rendered speechless
retreating helpless
to our home of homes
however humble

may each find a way
to pluck the strings
of the harp of hope
with our teeth if we must

until a few lost notes
a recovered stanza
or full melody
come softly rising.

Ghosts Die Too
by Judy Jones

ghosts die too you know
peoples park
stood alone
like a lady in the nite
hiking her skirt on street corners
offering her soul for a dollar or two

peoples park will be bombed
all in the name of peace

even the free box
blown to bits

evolution's ruthless
and WWIII has begun
ghosts die too you know

peoples park stands alone
for now

soon it too will go
like the lady in the nite
being picked up by a john
asked to do things
dogs aren't

ghosts die too you know

think i'll do a sit-in
by the free box in peoples park
eating food not bombs bread

cause soon i'll be gone too
yeah even ghosts like me
go too

by Mary Meriam

Living is sad
separate from my only kin.
We have worlds in common
yet no common ground.
Centuries of pain
keep us apart,
far as the north and south poles
of our cleaved earth.

Love Is Black Magic
by Chris Trian

Black magic is doing something thoughtless
and she looks at you, just looks at you
and her eyes are the mirror of her soul
You're in the doghouse
and roses or candy won't cut it
But you let her see your eyes in her mirror
and somehow, everything is okay again
And that's black magic
and that's love

Black magic is love
As you're walking down Haight Street,
It's way too beautiful, way too early in the year,
and life is a ripe peach, the way they used to taste.
And a teenage girl stops you
and tells you she likes your necklace
You don't know her from Methusaleh
but you're in love with love
it affects the way you
drink your cappuccino and write poems
And for a moment the streets glow like golden necklaces
but for the poor people, what's left of them
leaning against doorways,
or sleeping right in the middle of the sidewalk.
For them love is black magic too.
If we can help one,
if we can help all,
in our ritual chambers,
or by simply giving them some money or some food,
or helping them to a bed for the night.
We work against the OTHER black magic
that wants them dead and gone.

Who Are You?
by Mary Perkins

Hooded woman with the hidden eyes, hovering under a soiled, red, tattered blanket, waiting for nothing, but time, to materialize, who are you?

Man with clothing that is covered with filth, living under a bridge that is flooded and swarming with rats and lice, who are you?

Man who is smiling and walking on the downtown streets of a city with no shoes and ignored by everyone, who are you?

Man, begging for money from me in clothing that has not been washed for one year, who are you?

Woman, begging on a street in a college town, wearing no shoes in the rain, who are you?

Man or woman, drinking from dawn to dusk and dying of alcoholism and public neglect, who are you?

Man or woman, begging without knowing that you can get General Assistance, food stamps, SDI and MediCal, who are you?

People who exist day after day, pushing possessions around in a shopping cart, who are you?

Who are you? Who are you?

Do you have parents? Siblings? Relatives? Friends?

Have they abandoned you to poverty? Why?

Have you abandoned yourself to poverty and despair? Why?

Who are you? What is your name?

The homeless and desperately poor citizens of America are treated by nearly everyone as if they have no past, have no present worth discussing, and have no future whatsoever. They are treated by nearly everyone as if they are worthless, and are of absolutely no inherent value. They are ignored, discounted, feared and left alone to deal with already nearly impossible lives without help. Then they are judged for lives that are not helped or made better.

The homeless live and die on your streets, uncared about by you or by anyone else, even their families.

This nation has waited long enough to build homes and living facilities for the homeless residents of our country. Why has it waited so long? What does this say about us, as a nation? It says that we do not care about our own citizens.

The next time someone asks you for money, ask them, "Who are you?"

by Julia Vinograd

When they crucified the son of war
they stripped off his uniform
and nailed him to the naked back of Mary Magdalene,
standing upright with slender outspread arms.
Mary Magdalene sings the same song she'd sung the troops
whenever they marched past her window,
her full breasts spilling from her red dress.
The son of war knew it all too well.
When they crucified the son of war
his hands were naked of weapons,
much worse than his naked body.
He could almost hear his sergeant
giving him a dressing down in front of his unit
while he tries to stand at attention
with Mary Magdalene's noble and familiar rump
rubbing warmly against his own.
"Soldier, you think that machine gun
your government paid for is like your
glasses or your car keys and they'll be
in a lost-and-found desk in the middle of the next battle?
Soldier, you're an insult to your country,
without your weapon you don't exist.
I'm staring right at you, soldier
and nobody's there."
The son of war tries to squirm with shame
but the nails hold him still.
When they crucified the son of war
a rose vine grew from his spilled blood
wrapping around both bodes.
Thorns and scented petals press into every inch
of Mary Magdalene and the son of war.
When the roses open there are faces inside.
The son of war's dead buddies, one of the roses stunk
of beer farts and dirty jokes,
and the girl back home in a pale pink rose
spits at Mary Magdalene. Mary laughs.
When they crucified the son of war
the heavens opened for him
but all the saints were singing Mary Magdalene's song
and saints shouldn't even know such words,
much less sing them.
When they crucified the son of war
he turned away from heaven
looking for a place where he belonged.
It had been so long he'd forgotten the words
but he was looking for a place of peace.

The Hungry Streets
by Chris Trian

In the end I will feed the hungry streets.
I will return to the lines of my hand,
the pathways of God in the matrix of the soul.
I will go back hungry
and feed a much greater hunger.
I will return thirsty
and quench a greater thirst.
I will pour myself down the rivers of the cities
which are the thoroughfares and back alleys
where the unfortunate crouch and drag themselves,
crab-like and determined.

When and if my love dies first,
which is not bad,
because then I won't leave her lonely,
I will give my money and possessions
to my children and charity.
Perhaps my paintings will go to a museum,
where the proceeds go to help the poor.
I will take just enough money to survive
for a while as I soothe my grief,
by bottle or leaf or whatever
I have denied myself all these years.
Then I will make a living
painting small portraits of the Saints,
starting with my lovely wife
Deirdre Evans.

By this and everything else I do
I will feed those passages
in the brain of cities
that may be made obsolete
by the powers that be.
Already there are no benches,
and the ones there are,
are unsuitable for sleep.
With no more streets
there will be no more street people.
I'm sure they've figured this out.
So the good serpents of the streets,
the alleys, the paths trod by madmen,
the twisted dirt roads walked on
by twisted, calloused, broken soles,
are an endangered species.
I must feed them.
We all must feed them.
Because without veins the blood can't flow.
Without streets the hearts can't beat.
And beat down, or up, or beating frantically
like a trapped wild bird,
the heartbeat of cities must go on.

It is not given to us the "why,"
but the "how" can be discovered.
God is only a person made visible.
Even God does not know why.
Because why in the world
is there a President George W. Bush?
The Devil is easy to figure.
Somebody has to run the casinos.
But why a Bush? a Cheney? a Rumsfeld?
Why a constant war for money
when no one wants their children to die?
Why are there no benches
or places to sleep in the pathways of cities?
And why are there jails
when life is a holding cell
in the cathedral of death,
from which only one returned,
with fragments and bones
and stories that no one can agree on.

If not for the open streets
everything would be locked out of nothing.
No one could move and breathe,
or lean against a doorway
to paradise or hell.
"Freedom" is abstract
but MOVEMENT is real.
Movement is the fulcrum
between time and space.
So I must give myself to movement,
which has always been good to me.
I was a track star in high school.
I can still run down a bus.
I must pay back the streets
which are hungry and waiting.
But I warn them,
I will be quite a mouthful,
painting the Saints
and writing poems to the damned.

Because I must die second,
and I must die fighting,
Valhalla is not an easy heaven to get into.
But Deirdre's going there,
although she might not agree.
And the heroes dance there
in wild chaotic abandon.
And God does not bust you
for taking off your shoes,
and drinking on the sidewalk,
and falling asleep in the shade.

Three Strikes
by Alice Hicks

Three strikes and you are out!
This is a judge and jury sound,
not a Sunday baseball game.
This is not a childhood memory,
but a lasting adult trial.

I remember the sight of family
shedding tears.

Three strikes and you're out.
The judge's hammer knocking
my heart out.
Fifty years to life.
Death Row.

I remember the sound of prisoners
being marched out,
chains clanking,
dreams gone, families lost.
This is not a game,
but life forlorn.
Three strikes and you're gone.

I remember the taste of blood
dripping from my crushed lips
at the sound of the key
being thrown away!

The governor has decided
this day!
Three strikes and you're out!

by Mary Meriam

No dollar bills stand
between me and the world
no trust fund, no bank account
I do not have financial freedom
I am not funded.
This is my impotence,
being dependently wealthy.

No doctors stand
between me and my health
no pills, no procedures, no hospitals
I do not have health insurance
I am not covered.
This is my potency,
being independently healthy.

Drug Bust
by Julia Vinograd

Two cop cars drove up in front of the coffee shop
yesterday afternoon while a large dog barked
and howled. The guy I was talking with poked his
nose out then shrugged. "Weekenders," he said.
"Drug bust, two guys, they shouldn't be here."
I went to see.
The chained dog belonged to one of the kids
being searched and handcuffed.
They looked mainly worried their backwards
baseball caps stay at the right angle;
the large dog had more sense
and wanted to bite someone.
The kids' faces bothered me,
a kind of young blankness.
Suddenly I was sure they were virgins,
both of them, still more scared of girls than cops
and now their first time would be as
fresh meat behind bars.
I didn't want to think what would happen to them.
I wanted to do something.
I asked the cop
what would happen to the dog.

by Mary Meriam

They've lost their sparkle
from living a nightmare for too long,
circling through filthy water,
eyed and screamed at by gawkers and idiots,
force-fed dead fish,
lonely for their own kind.

Of all the sad animals, all misunderstood,
waiting to die without hurting a soul,
the shy sea horses seem saddest,
listlessly curling their tails around nothing,
with nowhere to go, and always sincere.

by Joan Clair

Walking my dog at the marina,
thinking of troublesome neighbors,
a ground squirrel pokes its head
between rocks,
sees us and dives back down.

Who does not trouble
some other creature?

The Free Box in People's Park
by Julia Vinograd

The main complaint seems to be
that the clothes are too good,
too good for poor people,
too good to be free
so they probably get sold and
poor people shouldn't make money
because they're supposed to be poor.
They might buy bad things.
Only rich people never buy bad things
or if they do, they can afford a lawyer.
Also, poor people are supposed to
look poor and suppose a girl's
wearing a nice dress,
you might smile at her.
You're not supposed to smile at her.
A purple and gold iridescent dress
with a peacock fringe,
bare feet, bare arms and tumbled hair.
It's not just too good, it's too pretty,
it's making her smile back.
Poor people can't afford to smile,
it's dangerous,
suppose you ask her name?
Free clothes in the free box,
free smiles, free names.
Has to be stopped.

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

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