Poetry of the Streets

How can we be housed and sleep at night when our brothers have no homes? How can we be housed and sleep at night when our sisters sleep on stones? What happened to the home we shared inside God’s heart? Whatever drove that home to vacancy drove us apart.

The Walkers

by Peter Marin

This poem follows the journey of a small group of homeless men and women as they marched across America from Santa Barbara to Washington, D.C.

No one

when we set out

not even we believed

we’d make it —

thirteen of us

from Santa Barbara

King’s birthday

clouds low on the horizon

the rainy season beginning

trucks on the highway

step by step down the road.

3000 miles one coast to the other

10 months across 2 dozen states

 

I still remember the feel

of the sun on my face

the hot nights in the midwest

where we bathed at dusk in

farm-ponds. I remember the

bridge over the Mississippi

the storms in Ohio

the leaves underfoot in the east.

I remember the wide turnpikes

narrow roads

how the air thru which we passed

scoured us until we glowed.

I remember how as we climbed

in New Mexico toward the

Continental Divide

the light of the sun came thru the clouds lighting

first one part then another

of the plain we crossed

rising at its furthest edge

to jagged peaks.

At the top of a high pass

rain soaked us

hail bounced at our feet

solitude enveloped us

muting the sounds of the world.

A clarity of light surrounded us

as if we had come suddenly close

to something other than

ourselves.

 

Later at night

our bickering began again —

the drunken arguments

over money or women or

which roads to take.

But what did it matter?

We slept knowing we had

for a moment

entered another world —

the one we dreamt as children

must be there.

 

Along the way

we picked up cans sold blood

ate so much surplus cheese

we could not shit for days.

By night we saw flares of gas

by day sight of cities guided us.

In the street people stopped us

tears in their eyes

pressing change in our hands

or lifting in the air V’d fingers

or fists to spur us on.

 

Men joined us crazed by war

lovers star-crossed

children sent packing

parents abandoned

the poor made homeless when

police tore down their tents

or stamped their fires out.

We saw men arrested for

sleeping on riverbanks

women for wheeling a

shopping cart down the street.

By the light of our fires we

heard men speak of lost children

or the pain of exile

with no hope of return.

In sleep they cried out to us

as do those shipwrecked

driven wild by thirst

who see on the horizon

imagined rescuers.

 

In huge shelters in great cities

we saw 1000 paupers in unison

turning on cots

like meat on a spit

snow falling outside.

I can recite

culled from our travels

a litany of horrors

a geography of loss.

The grieved faces melt into one

the cities combine skies

become a single huge roof

above a chamber of sorrows

stretching from sea to shining sea.

 

Ask me now why we did it and

I have no answer. It was not for

housing tho’ we spoke of it.

Nor was it for charity

tho’ we received it.

Nor was it even for justice —

at least not for ourselves.

We began that is all and

before we began

we were nothing.

It was only a dream

a thing we said idly we’d do. And then we were there

on the road no turning back only ourselves to measure

failure or success.

I believe now we crossed

not only the country

but a far region inside where

the soul has its home.

The tall mountains wide plains

were parts of ourselves

discovered in the great

blanketing silences of the land.

 

I am as you see

still on the streets

no wiser

no more sober than before.

And yet — I tell you I am

not the same.

I once saw in New York

Buddhist monks walk for peace

in stately order solemnly

beating drums:

boom. boom. boom.

They walked as if in

a slow-motion funeral:

boom. boom. boom.

It was like the beating

heart of the world

and when later I heard

they had walked

across the whole nation

in the same way

I cried.

 

On our walk

we had no drums

we shambled signs on our backs

shopping cart pushed ahead

an American flag held aloft.

No doubt we were comic

or sad in the eyes of

drivers who whizzed by

our brown shabby junk-laden

bus lumbering behind us.

But we too no less than

the monks felt in ourselves

something holy.

We too heard in the beat of

our hearts struggling uphill

the sound of the world:

boom. boom. boom.

 

Now in my thoughts I dance

as the wind devils did in Texas

I ride the high clouds

as I once rode freights

and I step among stars

like a man crossing a stream

stone to stone without stumbling.

But who will believe it

seeing me familiar on the street

my palm out

a bottle in my hand?

I am on fire with the truth

behind the mask of my face

and yet

mute, mute, mute,

I cannot tell my tale.

 

"Waiting." Art by Rodney Bell. Waiting for a meal, waiting for a shelter bed, waiting for a home, waiting for deliverance.

 

Vacancy

by Joan Clair

How can we be housed

and sleep at night

when our brothers have no homes?

How can we be housed

and sleep at night

when our sisters sleep on stones?

What happened to the home

we shared inside God’s heart?

Whatever drove that home to vacancy

drove us apart.

 

 

Praising God and Serving One Another

by Leon Kennedy

In God’s eyes, everybody is somebody:

a Shining Star.

Everyone is connected to one another:

One Spirit.

 

Each person is born with a gift from

God: a calling from the heart

a way of ministering.

 

Times are stormy and hard for many

of us. Sometimes we wonder,

“How will we make it?”

 

We need to keep on

praying and praising,

reaching for our dreams,

asking for what we need and want,

knocking until the door opens.

After the storm, the sun always shines.

 

The stars are always shining, even

when we can not see them.

God has blessings for each one of us,

even when we do not know

how we’ll make it.

 

God is waiting for us . . .

to lift up our hands,

to have faith in God,

to live God’s will,

to Love and Bless all people,

and to give God all the glory.

 

May we hold on to

God’s unchanging hands.

 

"Father If It Be Thy Will." Art by Rodney Bell

 

Whitman in the Tenderloin

by George Wynn

What would it be like

to sit down with him

— a big dude —

in 49er red and gold

sitting on a milk crate

with boom box blastin’

classic Wicked Pickett:

“I’m gonna take you girl

and hold you,

And do all the things I told you

in the Midnight Hour.”

 

And the menfolk and

the womenfolk flirt

to the music while others

curse and flirt with the

game of cocaine

 

Then the police siren

the cruiser stops and

the men in blue with

their long black nightsticks

watch the crowd disperse

and look up at the windows

of antique Tenderloin buildings

and the puzzled faces of Asian

grandmothers and grandfathers

more than likely survivors

of refugee camps

holding their crying babies and

perhaps thinking we never dreamed

our new home would be like this

 

One block down the street

I spot a slender young man

laying against a wall with

blue felt hat and long

black hair halfway down his back

and brown tanned Indian land skin

he’s centered:  piercing eyes

and tender lips his fingertips

highlighting his tome of choice:

Leaves of Grass

“Great book” I say and he

looks up and presses my

hand with his in a firm handshake

and continues to read.

 

"Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman

A Life Consecrated to Compassion and Justice

On the bleak streets of the Tenderloin, a sister took a stand against inhumanity. Her solidarity was inspired by the beatitudes and consecrated to the poor.

The Invisible Natural Cathedral of People’s Park

Builders, please go away. Allow the beauty of an Invisible Natural Cathedral to remain, a living shrine of open space that gives refuge to all people.

Street Spirit Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin

This atrocity was happening in a very wealthy city. It was happening right under our noses. It was very visible. And there was not the united voice of the faith community speaking out. That was the spark of Religious Witness. From that moment, I knew what I had to do.

Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin, Part Two

“What’s forming in my mind is Jesus in the temple when he became angry at the unjust and very exclusive systems of society. That is the very reason that there are the poor and the marginalized. It is not enough just to provide food, clothing and housing.”

‘Such Is the Magic and Spirit of People’s Park’

The mayor has no understanding of the awful defeat the loss of People’s Park would be. No comprehension of the cost in lives and the sacrifices people have made for the Park’s ideals. So many still find it a refuge in a country needing a political and spiritual overhaul.

I Remember Who I Am

“And Now Where?” Lithograph by Rockwell Kent

By and by, I calm down. I meditate. I pray. It is a beautiful day. The sun is setting. I weave my way toward the spot where I sleep, where nobody knows where to find me. I look to the stars, and say my prayers to the God who believes in Me.