A Real Poem

Whether you’re in prison in New York/ or a detention camp in the fields of Nebraska/ I am you/ Whether you’re sleeping on a square of cardboard in Oakland/ or under a grid in Philadelphia/ I am you/ I am in every living pulsating cell/ that hungers for justice

A homeless man holds a brother who has fallen on the streets. Artwork by Dave Kim


by J. Fernandez Rua


In this sooty soup

grit-gray rain

I need to lay it down.

Let it all go

and tell you about a real poem.

A poem made of flesh and blood

with far-seeing eyes

and a deep

and powerful grace.

His name was Juan Gonzalez.

Juan Gonzalez.

I met him on a line

waiting for a bowl of soup and a

piece of bread.

And soon, within weeks, we were


He became a brother to me.

Where he walked, I walked.

Where he ate, I ate.

Where he slept, I slept.

When I was sick, he nursed me.

When he was sick, I nursed him.


we even slept under the same blanket.

At times, he reminded me of St. Francis

Because he loved pigeons too.

Called them his little brothers.

Then just when I was beginning to see

that this man

who walked around with the words

of Jesus in his pocket,

that this man could teach me

something real

what we expect but never talk about

especially on the street — happened:

One December night he fell asleep

on a bench

in Old Man’s Park

and never woke up again.

His beautiful heart just stopped.

The streets had worked him too hard

for too long.

And now he was done.


So remember:

His name was Juan Gonzalez.

And he died on a bench

in Old Man’s Park.

Not because he was a drunk, demented,

or insane.

Not because he was on heroin or crack.

Not because he didn’t want to live.

The truth is simple.

He wanted what we all want:

to love and be loved

in the peace of his own God.

And something more.

More than anything —

to be useful

to be useful.

Yes, the truth is simple:

He died because

and only because

like me,

maybe like you,

he was poor,

gritty gray poor.

And except for Sister Mary and her

few sisters, here and there,

you tell me


Who gives a damn about the poor


Stand or kneel,

beg or cry

we are on our own.

No one knew that better

or deeper

than my brother Juan Gonzalez.

And if he were here today,

Right now.

He would say this:

“My people tears of thee,

tears of me.  Joy of me.

This sweet land where Jesus lives,

where Jesus bleeds,

this country my father loved,

that I love,

this earth and sky,

belongs to us too.

And that house we built

with our sweat and blood,

that we carry on our backs

gleaming white in the morning sun

where our president lives

that house belongs to us too.

So let us not be demonized


Let us not be cast aside


Let us not be victimized

or shamed into a silence

where nothing grows but pity and pain.

Let us rise instead.

Yes, let us rise.

Rise above the fear,

beyond the sooty, sorry streets

that beat us down to blue and gray.

Let us rise and be the dreamcatchers

we were born to be.

Let us rise to the revelation

that we are made of love.

I said love.

A light so true and fearless

that it won’t be deferred or denied.

Never again left to die in the dark.

Yes, my people, tears of thee

tears of me.

Joy of me.

Whatever your name is

I am you

Whatever language or culture you

were born into

I am you

Whatever race you belong to

I am you

Whatever faith you hold onto

I am you

Whether you are man or woman

I am you

Whether you’re in prison in New York

or a detention camp in the fields

of Nebraska

I am you

Whether you’re sleeping on a square

of cardboard in Oakland

or under a grid in Philadelphia

I am you

I am in every living pulsating cell

that hungers for justice

and the right to love.

I am you.

I am you.

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