Strong and Unbound Wings

We think of you/ long on the streets/ a titanium brace in your bad leg,/ sighing at pain, yet uncomplaining/ like a statue of marble or bronze./ One day, Mike, may you glide/ from your sidewalk perch/ as if you were always a bird,/ and now at last your wings/ are strong, unbound.


by Claire J. Baker

we recall today
how old you must be —
if you still exist,
and how young you were
when you ran away.
You have become to us
an unending ladder
with rungs so high
they reach into heaven
and above the sky.



by Claire J. Baker

do you ever think of us,
your original family?
We love you still, have
kept your room open
all these years.

We visit you on the
streets as sparrows.
We bounce, bright-eyed,
around you, Robbie,
when crowds are thin and
your basket gathers dust.

Surely you have seen us
and maybe smiled.



by Claire J. Baker

Damn that rain-puddled road!
Damn your car skidding into a wall!
We almost wish you were a statue
so you’d not suffer constant
leg pain which you highly
medicate to endure.

On better days, does your spirit
feel musical?
Have you heard the
hypnotic first eight notes of
Liszt’s Un Sospiro (a sigh)?

When hearing it, we think of you
long on the streets —
a titanium brace in your bad leg,
sighing at pain, yet uncomplaining
like a statue of marble or bronze.

One day, Mike, may you glide
from your sidewalk perch
as if you were always a bird,
and now at last your wings
are strong, unbound.


my brother’s heartbeats

by Judy Joy Jones

yeah sweet baby
hear ya heartbeats
and see yo’ tears of blood
dying before our eyes
on dem cold fuckin’
concrete streets

system’s made to kill
not heal
people getting’ rich
off po’ man’s back

have a drink
sweet darlin’
it’s on me

oh yeah baby
humans not made
to die like animals
on filthy streets

people walkin’ by
hatin’ po’ man
eatin’ outta garbage can

police arrestin’
po’ fallin’ down
from hunger an neglect

yo piercin’ screams
echo in da night
beggin’ us
to give a damn
if ya sees
the morning’s light

so darlin’
have a drink on me
yeah sweet baby
dis one’s on me

man’s not made
to die on filthy streets
could be me

yeah sweet baby
hear ya heartbeats
an see yo’ tears of blood
dyin’ before our eyes
on these cold fuckin’
concrete streets

could be me


We Surprise Ourselves

by Claire J. Baker

We two miracles need no weather
report, we read the sky,
read our lifelines’ story, read
each other’s minds, read between
between the lines and the lions.

We walk into Berkeley hills,
stroll in rain to a lake,
to a proverb, to God’s house,
to rainbow’s end where
we share a pastel smoothie.

Friend, we lose in inches,
then gain a mile of smiles.
We surprise ourselves by making
this tough life sing like a lark
just before the dawning dawns.


A Tidbit as Treasure

by Claire J. Baker

“Don’t let) … the jewel on the left
side of your chest lose its luster.”

— Hazim Hikmet, imprisoned
Turkish poet, 1930

Reading these words
we begin to gather every
tenderness within us,
up into the stratosphere,
the Milky Way,
other galaxies —
other others,
our hearts shining
all the way to God.


Emptying Your Dresser

by Claire J. Baker

your deep poem
on a random sheet,
I wonder
how much more you
might have written

The hours drag by slowly when you are exiled to live on the street. Photograph by Dong Lin from his book One American Reality.



The Night They Called To Tell Me You Were Gone

by Robert Lavett Smith

In memoriam: Patricia Lewis Smith, 1953-2005

The night they called to tell me you were gone
Was more grotesque for being so ordinary.
Rain fell in sheets. A fitful doze, alone
With a bad cold, heartsick and world-weary.
Just before ten, the phone rang. In a flash
I woke from dreams of staples in your skull:
Metallic ciphers ate your shaven flesh
Spelling grim prophecies beyond recall.
The doctor’s voice seemed distant, would not say
That you had died, but only that you’d “coded.”
I knew, of course. My vision bled to gray
Like an old photograph; weak light eroded.
My former life was done, once and for all;
A chasm yawned, and I began to fall.


The Expurgated Version
for Bobby Coleman

by Robert Lavett Smith

What strange chain of events compelled me here?
Ordinary moments redolent with pain,
Private regrets impossible to explain
Settle like dusty neon on my beer.
For part of every day I disappear—
Or wish I could. Such pleasures as remain
Ring true, but seem diluted: John Coltrane
Burnishes afternoon’s decayed veneer.
A month from now, I will turn 54.
I want a woman I won’t ever have.
My failures throng around me, keeping score.
Aches in my teeth confirm I’m still alive.
Yet summer slyly hints at something more,
Some revelation shortly to arrive.


Trying to Live

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.


Anyone Could

by Mary Meriam

Anyone could, for love, traverse the world.
Cally sings to trees, disperse the world.

She bikes through forests in a foreign land,
winter, summer, empty purse, the world.

The jet plane lifts and lowers, glints of steel.
The four winds faster, harder, curse the world.

When moss and violets line the rocky creeks,
when all that flows is breaking, verse the world.

Flying or stopping still to pen the page,
having for better or for worse, the world.

My simple summary, my gift to Cally:
there is a good that will reverse the world.


The Loser’s Lament

by Mary Meriam

The winning wealthy poets, photographed
by Avedon, will fly between their homes,
collecting prizes, teaching classes, staffed
with personal assistants, stuffed with poems
that dribble from their mouths and land in books
that stock the superstores, the most elite
of schools, and shelves of readers with the looks
to share their beds and take a dinner seat.

But I’m a poet of a single table.
I wash my dishes at the kitchen sink.
I have nowhere to go, and so I think
I’ll sit and write a poem at the table.
The price I pay for every line I write
is measured by the gods in bloody light.



by Mary Meriam

the supermarket check-out clerk’s
warm ready smile
penetrates my sore mood,
fluorescent lights, my failures

“I remember you don’t need receipts,”
she says, showing it, taking it back,
and laughing playfully

I smile and let my good wishes wash
all over her, her feet standing for hours,
and all the troubles found
in supermarket check-out jobs
for older married ladies


Beginning to Snow

by Mary Meriam

Such a dark night I’m walking in.
Something wet with soft substance
lands on my upper lip—a snowflake.
Over a bridge, over cold rushing water,
I stand and look for stars.

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