The October 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

The Aristocracy and the Disaster

In Katrina's Wake, Oakland Batters Homeless

A Perfect Storm of Racism

Katrina: Ongoing Human Disaster

FCNL Speaks Out on Katrina

Kerry's Kids: Health Care for Poor Children

Fresh Start Gives Kindness Awards

The Dying Gift of Sharon Ostman

A 500-Year-Old War on the Poor

37 Million Live in Poverty in US

Julia Vinograd: Poet Laureate of Berkeley Streets

Innovative Plans for Homeless Housing

Disabled Woman on a Long Road Back Home

Photographer's Eye for the Dignity of People

Poor Leonard On Prejudice

The Flower Lady

October Poetry of the Streets


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.

October Poetry of the Streets

The Old Lady on the Street
by Michael Creedon

She sits there smoking on the straightened street
and holds out a "sparechange" gnarled hand.
Her angry red leather face offers no gratitude when
someone gives her a quarter, and
her legs are twisted under her.
Her filthy sweater can't give much warmth,
in summer she must boil. Her skin is warped
and wrinkled. Her eyes flare wrath. But she accepts
what fate has done to her. She smells of rancid fat
and she dares you to approach her
just as she dares you to pass her by.

Has she any children, any family? She looks about 85.
Chain smokes. Does anyone care? Where are
"The Agencies?" I'm sorry this has happened to you.
Who will wash your clotted stringy hair?
Who will lovingly bathe burnt broken skin?
Who will apply the Cleopatra creams, salves to the
sores where it must hurt so much just to be?
I wish I had more than a dollar to spare and I wasn't
afraid of you -- for you could be my mother too.

Street People
by Michael Creedon

The homeless come and the homeless go
but it don't mean shit on the Avenue.
The ones that stay, stay a long, long while
I wonder what that does for God's big smile.
I have my friends there I talk to
And I miss them when they're desaperacido
I buy my monthly Street Spirits
and hand out some change when I have some.

I'm nobody special.
What I can't see is how I'd stand the discomfort
and general misery.
I'm grateful for what I've got. I wish
it was more; it's not a lot.
But I do know this --
when a man or woman holds out their hand
they sure aren't doing it to grandstand.

Oh Lord -- The Curb
by Holman Monell

Oh Lord, the curb's no pillow for thy child
who maketh thy servant feel guilt -- seeing how some are given more than others --
mild or harsh, weak or strong -- thy Being
is ignored, thy love debased, wisdom neglected
as we rush pell mell for goods
worldly in nature; meanwhile His Dome
over His creation cracks: we see. We should.
How light leaks in despite our blind ease:
the thunder of the angels -- if you please.

She Has No
by Holman Monell

She has no credit cards, no bank account,
no make-up, fancy clothes, expensive tastes;
she has two teeth, she lost the rest. Instead
of chewing these days, she pastes food like the
wooden teeth of George the first, with pain.
"Not much to brush--" she says with tears
she wipes away, embarrassed by her poverty.
She will survive, though every night she
wears her pride with grace. A dirty blanket is
her cloak of state; and a bent spoon
her sceptered hope.

The Bitter Side of Flatbroke
by Mary Meriam

Some people lead an easy life, from birth
to death, connected, pampered, lucky, rich,
convinced that smiling fate defines their worth,
quite safe and snug and settled in their niche.
I wonder why I can't be one of them.
If I had money, I'd have time to write
and read and socialize with any femme
or butch or in-between who came in sight.
Or spend my time alone or take a trip.
Then I could call my life a life and not
this constant jungle fight to get a sip
of water, find a place to rest, too hot,
too cold, too worried, hungry, lost, alone.
Perhaps someone will throw this dog a bone.

by Michael Creedon

The napalm babies of the Vietnam War
Their fathers scrub and swab the floor, or
extend a shaky hand on the Avenue, with
a sign that reads, "Vet will work for food."

I studied reading, writing, and 'rithmetic
and didn't learn much
'cept once in awhile, a cloudy night
when the moon was obscured
and I heard the Valkyries fight.

I was born in a farming town
where the sun and moon
came pouring down
and a tiny virgin child gave birth to a
stigmatized baby,
and the people were normies
but nights were wild.
My family traveled a lot. I was a happy child

with a hole in my gut and a piece missing
and I find it now in my connection with
these homeless people begging for relief,
for I too have begged for the same and for
release from the chains that shackled
fatal heart to my feet and trembling hands.

Hopeless Homelessness
by Maureen Hartmann

She came with me
and my older woman friend to lunch
at La Val's on Euclid at an outdoor table,
since it was a warm sunny day.
She had told us she was homeless.
My friend paid for the young woman's lunch
and asked her if she had tried to get in
the woman's shelter on Dwight Way.
She responded,
"I just want to enjoy the afternoon,"
as if she had tried too many shelters,
including the women's shelter,
and just wanted to take a rest
from thinking about homelessness.

"The Boy Who Talked With Animals"
by Joan Clair

In "The Boy Who Talked with Animals,"
a story by Roald Dahl,
a wealthy little boy of nine or less
leaves his wealthy family, becoming homeless,
in order to save an enormous sea turtle
from becoming soup
or a tortoise shell without a tortoise.
The little boy gets on the turtle's back,
and they go far away over the ocean;
never more at home than when they escape
a world of beings who are not born
and have not been created,
who do not die, but are delayed.
And the boy and turtle tale
is not told as a story of salvation.
But they are saved.

by Claire J. Baker

a street person
keeping time with
an imaginary drummer
there on their
customary corner
a dusty cup that
once held coffee
sitting empty
not overflowed
with bills
and emptied
but most often
empty, empty as
the worn gaze in the
silent beggar's eyes.
P.S. they're very old
and innocent.

Street Person Overheard
by Claire J. Baker

"Alone but not
lonely, alone
but not lonely,
alone but not lonely"

she repeats over and over
until she is not lonely
for the moments
it takes to repeat.

I Can See
by Michael Creedon

My despair has passed.
I cleaned my wound
with a razor blade
and had a smoke.
I'm afraid of the dark
but I can see.

by Joan Clair

For years, the driven man has swept down the streets,
pushing a shopping cart and muttering,
like a can being kicked by the wind.
I've seen him from bus windows and car windows.
I've seen him go past in a frenzy which makes him fast
as if he had a skateboard beneath his feet.

Today in a restaurant, I pay for a strawberry tart.
When I pick up my tray, there are two tarts there, a "mistake."
Then I see the man in the restaurant rushing from place to place.
I offer him a tart and he thanks me.
His smile is like the light of a candle in a sanctuary.
He is a genteel eater and leaves some of the tart on his plate.

Do angels lose their way?
There must be some mistake.
With his hair curling about his face, he looks like an angel.
I see him in some other dimension, driven to help and save.

Professor "X"
by Claire J. Baker

Living on the streets
you spot no holy grail,
no mail, no rainbow, no pot
steaming meat and potatoes --
your only nite lite
half a cigarette you find.

Professor, there you sprawl
not yet able to transcend
in the manner of Emerson/Thoreau,
though once you loved and taught
Self Reliance and Walden Pond.

The Day They Destroyed New Orleans
by Husayn Sayfuddiyn

On The Day They Destroyed New Orleans
Katrina came bearing down
full of sound and fury
on Big Easy Town
As the World held its breath
at the Harbinger of Death
before whose might the flood walls gave
as the Fury shook New Orleans
who no one came to save
They turned away the doctors
the flotilla of rescue boats
cut and jammed communications
created unidentifiable, collective scapegoats
let prisoners drown in their cells
the hospitalized were told to go to hell
as death spread, ruin and slaughter
or stranded on roofs
or neck deep in polluted water
just an Air Force One fly-by
the President just waved Hi!
followed by the spin takeover
with assurances from the House Oreo
while arranging for Halliburton
to collect the rescue dough.
They blocked the mobile hospitals
sent in Guardsmen to sleep and play cards
while the Tsar and his Empress Mother
reflect their human disregard
scripted apologies for the actions
of the victims of the State
while the starving and thirsty minions
in attics and rooftops stay
with distant messages to wait
Mighty Mouse is on His Way
Five Days Too Late

by Randy Fingland

when it's raining
those are the deity's teardrops
not of joy but from a well of sorrow
at how this world's turned to
such a pickle under ashly fallout
due to little (and some big) slips
away from the codes of civilized life
that escalate in number every day
to stimulate the spread of
Empty Stomach Disease

dare call it democracy
by Randy Fingland

ugly smoke curlicues
into a sky already crowded
with soot from burning greed

so possessed to the cellular
level by a dread of the future
gives impulse to kill a child

who had somehow muddled
through today enough
to deserve a tomorrow

but never grew to
know fully how to avoid
death in the streets

We Survived
by Cinnamon (Toni Cook)

Look back at those old days
Cold, mad, sad, really so bad.
L'il Gypsy dancin' a jig
With that grin of his.
The cops going crazy.
The dogs and cats got lazy.
All the while
Carolle took care of everyone.
J.P. would be right back.
Kevin drank.
Gypsy, Dennis and I
Shot our speed
And done our deals.
Tried to keep our shopping carts
On all four wheels.
We dumpster-dived.
We survived.

Lawyer, Artist, Friend
by Cinnamon (Toni Cook)

Osha Neumann, he is a great man.
I guess you can call me a fan.
An artist of murals.
A lawyer for the downtrodden.
A friend of the first rate.
A wonderful man.
Yes, you can say I am quite a fan.
It is only right
When you consider
He took my case against UC
Fought dauntlessly and valiantly.
He defended my dog
Against the police.
Saved his life twice, you see.
When I was ill
He visited me.
Used his skills until
Those legal problems were gone.
Saved me from a tax dispute.
Is always there
When I need to talk.
A kind voice,
A bent ear is always near.
I am your number-one fan.

On the Street
by Cinnamon (Toni Cook)

I sit in the Park and
Watch the day go by.
I don't qualify for SSI.
I have no skills so I can't pay bills.
I live a life without many frills.
On the street
It is hard to compete.
I guess I'll go panhandle
For something to eat.

Street Children
by Claire J. Baker

Passersby never see you cry.
Do you hide your tears
behind day-old newspapers,
hide tears and fright under
darkness of a midnight sky?

But nights can be too long
and newspapers flimsy shields.
Hey kids, where do you go
with all your hidden tears --
no childhood jingle or song?

Why Do We Write of Their Plight
by Claire J. Baker

Because they are most often speechless
stepped over/stepped on
And it's hard to write poems
when wind and rain wreak mayhem
on a paper sheet...

And tears in a pen instead of ink
(though pressed hard as life on some
scrap) are impossible to decipher,
except by God.

Grandmother of the Streets
by Claire J. Baker

Listening for tender words
she may or may not hear
from our Immortal Pawn,
Molly pulls herself
together, hangs on & on
against cruel odds.
And people passing by
wonder how or why...

by Husayn Sayfuddiyn

I am the citizen-slave
And the flag I wave
I wave to glorify my race
Tho' it belies the noble face I see
In the fog of my perversion of history
I am the Citizen-Slave of the Fascist State
willing feet in its Iron Boots
Its dollar's my slave-collar
From the pockets of Fascists in three-piece suits.
Its inflation is the derogation of all costs on the buyer
Whose cages are the impoverishing wages of
Labor slave for hire
I am the Minute Man protecting the Usury Banking Kings
Whose corporate jingles I sing
In whose shadow of debt I sleep
From the blood of whose wars I weep
From the guilt of whose murders I creep
Proclaiming a sword of justice I keep
That what you sow, the Masters may reap
And tho' I cry beside the graveside of my fallen sacrificial son
The medals on my chest console

The evil deeds that's been done
The Hero's laurel's won
And in my subliminal captivation I believe that to be free
I must reduce all others to my captivity.
I am the slave prison guard, judge and jury
Imperialism's sound and fury
I do my duty to the gods of war
If death and murder be my lot, well, that's what slave's are for
Some think that I am a robot programmed to kill
Others that I profess to deny humanity's free will
Yet to the Barker's "Hey Rube" call of Fire!
I respond, "Minuteman -- Citizen slave for hire!"
I know all people have rights but I monopolize them
When minorities do, I crucify them
If freedom's their whim, it's me or them
I am the Slave, Slave Driver- Pulverizer-Zombie G.I. to you
I poisoned Iraq with DU-Tortured and Raped it's sons too
All I got to say is just be glad it's not you
I'm the Slave of the State-Heaven can wait --
All you others choose your fate --
Choose your side-choose wrong and die
Take a permanent break from your humanity
Keep up your "I'm Free" Fantasy

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E-mail: Spirit

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Editor : Terry Messman

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