Prayers and Poems from a Shelter

“today at social security i did see/ a man shaking so badly he couldn't stand/ telling everyone he just got out of jail/ and needed a hand/ he had no teeth/ and looking in his eyes/ i could see he was in a place/ few on earth see”

(coke) Painting by Jonathan Burstein


In a Shelter with

the 1970 Blues

by George Wynn

He’s sitting alone

in the shelter reading

the Sporting Green

which is better than sleeping

alone on a mean street


He reads that the heavyweight

champion of the world

Joe Frazier has died

now he’s inside a 1970

memory: full of life

teaching sculpture

with his wife


He told himself years ago

he’d never go to a shelter

Here he is: no

energy, will or hope

tired of people staring

and calling him weird

He just wants to stop, give up


Often lonely, he got a dog

someone to care for

and care about him

then the dog died


Now here he is:

his balance (emotional

and physical) waning

Nothing in reserve

scratching his Moses beard

debating foregoing

the final round


Butterfly Prayers

by Claire J. Baker

Butterflies on flowers

press their wings together

like Praying Hands we see

in windows of bargain shops

which barter for eternity.


We’re not as wise as time,

yet know that any moment

could trigger urgent hours

when we’ll need help from God

or from butterflies on flowers.


Veteran at Home

by Julia Vinograd

A veteran demands his room be hotter.

His bones chilled in a hospital under the nurse’s cold fingers

and colder smiles and a spiderweb of tubes.

At night he could almost see the summer spider

waiting to drain his heat as it drained his buddies.

The veteran makes his family build up a fire in his room.

He has a double vision.  When he looks out the window

the rose vine in full-scented bloom covering his window frame

is also the spiderweb of tubes. Nurses walk in the flames.

He snarls, and tries to turn them into strippers and fails.

Before he was shot he sweated in his armor all the time

and cursed the heat.  And now he can’t remember.

Sometimes his eight-year-old son comes in with a basketball.

They both say hello politely, as they were told.

But the whole desert stretches between them.


Proud and Happy

Bag Lady

by Ava Bird

i am a bag lady!

i carry bags around wherever i go!

bags and bags and bags of necessities like food and water, lip balm and pens, shoes and bras,

photos and phones, underwear and socks, papers, scissors, rocks

in my bags of life,

my bags of living in the now,

holy bags of sacred chow and dough

presents for friends and the present is our present,

our presence is like a wrapped gift with a bow,

deep conscious awareness minus any baggage,

reflections in the mirrors of the clouds,

back to the clarity of sunshine, blinded by the light at times,

dark circles with eye bags

clean thy bags of dirty laundry,

my hemp bags take me to the beach with bags of goodies, hats and hoodies

let’s score a bag at farmers markets, no plastic please,

thanks for the cloth bag and the handles on my paper bags,

double bags,

thanks for helping me with my bags when they are heavy baggage,

i must let go and rest too,

release my bags when it’s time to go,

never forget bags to the airport!

everyone’s bags and bags!

they don’t even know they are bag people too

and how much weight and baggage they carry

even with no bag please,  i just use my own,

BYOB:   bring your own bags please!

the goddess blesses she who brings her own,

like her and you,

and us

i’m just another independent modern day DIY bag girl,

just another proud & happy, crazy bag lady!


today at social security

by Judy Jones

today at social security i did see

a man shaking so badly he couldn’t stand

telling everyone he just got out of jail

and needed a hand


he had no teeth

and looking in his eyes

i could see he was in a place

few on earth see


and the young woman

weighing about 300 pounds

talking on her phone

bout her daddy who beat her so badly

they came and took her away

when she was only three


and now she lived in shelters or on the street

with her baby in hand

she was begging for a place

she could call home and find peace


the couple from china

who spoke not a word of english, nor heard

and instead looked into space

refusing to accept they too were part of this place


a man and wife nodding off on hard drugs

he holding her upright

so the security guard wouldn’t make them leave

while they drifted in and out of opium dreams

waiting to get on ssi


and the elderly man who was alone but

seemed to know this was not his true home

and he like me and all the rest were but pilgrims

just passing thru this temporary place


and the woman yelling at the guards

she wanted to been seen by a clerk now

and would fight anyone who got in her way

why in god’s name she cried

did they put her last


the guard looked happy

when getting ready

to bully anyone

who stepped outta line


but ya see

no one in this place had the strength to even fight

which was long gone

and all that was left were dreams

of what they could have been if only


his job was finished each day

before work began

not one person struggled with him

past a few nasty words


sighing he would go back to his post

still longing for a good fight

but alas he knew too

the people had been beaten down

into the ground by life

and he would never have the great fights

he dreamed of every night

when watching cops and robbers on tv


and the tattooed woman

a snake on her face

and spiders lizards and worms

covering her arms and legs


i looked at everyone

soaking in their pain

and knew once again

they were me and I them


no one was above or below another

we were all one

in the same dream


a super clear mirror did i see today

of the 2012 usa society

while at the social security office down the street


it’s sad

by Michael Leslie

main idea’s not be homeless —

bed, kitchen, bath

for privacy, who’d object?


but nothing’s given in this

modern concrete jungle

devoid of tribal sharing.


sad seeing innocents

still in school or graduated

working check-out counters


or movie house late night

ill-fitting purple uniform

sweeping popcorn from seats.


who’s siphoning tax money

forcing these kids

to augment family income?


Another Drop

by Jack Bragen

Short man

Tall man

Weak man

Sleek man









Smart Man




Too young to vote

Domestic Engineer

Space Shuttle Engineer


Truck Driver

Book Writer

Floor Cleaner

Business Manager


All of us in our time

Stand naked before the light

It makes no distinctions

We’re all worthy


No matter who

we think we are

No matter what

we think we’ve done

We are a droplet of water

going back into the ocean


All debts become repaid

We shed our shells

What we are and were

And we are again innocent


by Claire J. Baker

harshest reality


to hinterlands

of fantasy

and there the

shy little bird

in our soul

sang, waiting.


Street Musician

by Julia Vinograd

He sits on a blue egg crate under a street-corner tree,

his long crossed legs balancing a guitar. Skinny wrists.

Hungry ribs. A string of dark feathers and beads

dangles from his vest.  Black hair tied in a ponytail.

He plays red-black cherries he can’t reach.

He plays rare steak and onions with a sizzling fringe of fat.

He plays bulging burritos and hot sauce.

He plays corn on the cob with plenty of butter.

He plays pepperoni pizzas spinning around people’s heads

like saints’ gold haloes. He plays everything he hasn’t eaten

for almost a week.  His music opens doors in the air to picnics,

deviled eggs, tuna sandwiches, a bowl of apples,

chocolate cake and lemonade. His music slices sunset clouds

like big pink hams. His music is a mirage of a feast in the desert.

His music makes mouths water.


i believe for every tear

by Judy Jones

i believe for every tear

an infant sheds

a trillion angels appear

drying their eyes

holding ‘em near

bathing them in divine light


i believe for every child

that dies alone in the night

two billion saints gather round

holding its tiny soul tightly

to their breasts and placing it

at the feet of our lord

where it finally finds rest


i believe that god’s gold

can never be bought

borrowed or sold

and will remain thru eternity

and offered to the little ones

that suffered most


i believe one day

we shall all weep

for those we walked past

and let die

forgotten on the streets


and most of all i believe

that divine love

erases all and makes new

you and me

setting our spirit souls free!!


I believe

oh my god

i doth believe!!!!


Lady Luck

by George Wynn

While chess players

hustle games in the

Market Street cold

a beggarman holds out his

hands and an aristocratic lady

with gloves and straw hat

places a twenty in

each swollen palm.


(flowers) Painting by Jonathan Burstein


by Julia Vinograd

Bad street where 2 gangs fought over territory.

Neighborhood families demanded help.

The city council planted a row of flowering trees.

Small with white blossoms at every other paving stone.

Cops wouldn’t go near the place

but flowering trees couldn’t leave.

Tattooed gang members, dragons, naked girls who wiggled

over a clenched muscle, jail house tears

and flowers.  And flowers.

Two gangs fought, left a young boy behind with a knife wound.

White petals didn’t dial 911.

White petals covered his rose tattoos,

spangled his leather and turned red in his blood.

A few white petals slipped between his lips instead of breath.

A flowering branch torn off in the struggle lay beside him.

His mother asked for the branch but by the time she got there

all the petals had fallen.



by Joan Clair

Later that afternoon the soldiers came … to inspect our yard …. they watched Tae-yul … burning a huge pile of rose of Sharon trees … and marched off …. The little rose of Sharon tree [hidden] in its pot amid the workshop clutter was safe.”                   — Linda Sue Park, When My Name was Keoko


Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these … you have done it unto me.”  Matthew 25:40


Who could imagine the inclusiveness of the “least of these?”


* Animals in a Polish zoo exterminated by the Nazis for their lack of breed specific racial purity.

* Rose of Sharon trees, the “national tree” of Korea exterminated by invading Japanese who replaced them with cherry trees, the “national symbol” of Japan.

* Pets who became homeless after their owners were taken away by the Nazis, not given new homes because of their “ethnic identity.”  They were considered “Jewish dogs.”


Animals and trees are among the “least of these,” given identities, ethnicities, nationalities that have nothing to do with them



by Joan Clair

The homeless man who wandered into Cafe Gratitude

had never heard of a piece of cake for $8.00.

Yet this is where his path had taken him;

so I bought him a piece of cake,

and someone else bought him a bag of granola.


Cafe Gratitude has something to be grateful for.



by Claire J. Baker

Jack Kerouac and the gang

chose the streets — slums,

later swamps, deserts, woods,

even tents, but they managed

somehow to keep on going —

“beat” as they were, winnowing

their lives down to the point of

no return, or that sidewise eight

for Infinity…


Bebop Friend

by George Wynn

Kicking back on

South of Market side street

out of view of ticket police

sharing a king-size falafel

sandwich and tall cool one

with old musician friend

telling me tales

of the spontaneity and feeling

of Bebop and Charlie Parker’s

exquisite technique.


“Lot’s changed” I chime in

“Nothing’s changed

back then I sported a

goatee, wore shades

and a beret and they

called us creeps

Now I walk down the

street with my cane

and my bundle and

they call me homeless



Holding Onto Hope

in San Quentin Prison

by Stevie Lamar Fields, Barry G. Williams, Michael Sabre Hill

I hold onto hope because

I don’t know how not to


I tried to figure things out

except each step appears new


Separation is built

instead of building up each other


It’s not hard to see that

we as humans are one


Until this madness stops

we won’t move any further


I hold onto hope because

I don’t know how not to


I hold onto hope because

I can’t do this without you


I’m holding onto hope


Hold onto hope with us!


The three authors of this poem

are inmates in San Quentin Prison.



I Am From the Place of Nightmares and Dreams

by Tammy Huynh

I am from the pencils that yell out the ugliness

I am from the flowers that are thirsting for attention

I am from the comic pages filled with superheroes that comfort every child that one day Superman will come and save them

I am from the mute shadows that chase after you for help

I am from a place where there is no oxygen, just clouds of fear that float in the atmosphere

Our homes are our turtle shells

I am from the footsteps of these murderers that walk through the icy night

I am from the fiery red devil that lurks in the man’s body as he stands pointing a gun at you

I am from the impatient bullets that do not wait until your old age for death

I am from the beat-up cars’ headlights that flash the screaming clips of young children’s beatings

I am from the rocking chair that whines and aches on the hardwood floor for so many generations of old people have sat on it

I am from the books that itch for someone to flip their pages

I am from a place where people live in nightmares and dream about paradise


Tammy Huynh, an East Oakland youth, explained why she wrote this poem: “I have read the Street Spirit about many things that homeless people have experienced, and it has inspired me to write a poem about the similar things that I also see in my neighborhood.”


Unpaved Thoughts on

Sleepless Pavement

by Claire J. Baker

“Nearing the end of the world” —

(could this be in the offing,

weakened as we are by weather

and by our endless coughing?)


We try to stay alive —

sometimes forgetting why.

If we rival the lowly cockroach,

surely we’ll survive?


A Berkeley Beggar

by Maureen Hartmann

Begging must be hard, humiliating work

yet it takes savvy of people,

like that of a psychologist.

The man was standing on Shattuck,

in front of Games of Berkeley,

dressed in the drab uniform of the poor.

His palm outstretched in front of him

to receive my change was grubby.

Yet he managed to remember seeing me

volunteering at a couple of

public free meals.

He earned a dollar from me

on a clear Sunday morning.

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