Transfiguring Beauty: The Poetry of Peter Marin

Peter Marin’s poetry illuminates and transfigures, enabling us to see the sacred beauty of people living on the streets all around us. In a land where homeless people are shunned and persecuted, it is a revolutionary act when a poet finds beauty in their lives, and restores their stolen dignity.

In Maynard Dixon’s painting, two destitute men walk down a long road, an image of the hardships of the Depression when countless masses became homeless wanderers on the road,


by Peter Marin

Where the town stops, my life begins.

To the east, low twilit buttes.

To the west, white snowy peaks.

In my heart, a vacancy beyond belief.



San Diego

by Peter Marin

Bring my slippers, Mother,

and let me sit in silence,

tired of my wandering

and sick to death of violence.


Bring my slippers, Mother,

as darkness fills the treetops,

and I will tell you stories

as meaningful as Aesop’s.


Bring my slippers, Mother,

and listen close beside me

to how throughout my country

men punished or reviled me.


Bring my slippers, Mother,

and we’ll whisper close together,

far from the cruelties of men

and God’s cold winter weather.



Men in Blue

by Peter Marin

Be good, little darling,

or the men in blue

some cold night

will come seeking you,


stamping out your fire,

ripping down your tent,

destroying all you own

in the name of the State.


Be good, little darling,

or the men in blue,

some cold night

will come seeking you,


trussing up your wrists,

twisting back your arm,

taking you to prison

just for trying to

stay warm.



by Peter Marin

Let the cops come, man,

like the fuckin’ mad gestapo,

tearin’ down our tents,

rippin’ our cardboard houses,

dumping our drum-fires

into the midnight streets.

Let the dumb fuckers come

knockin’ heads, breakin’ ribs,

pilin’ us into their vans

and takin’ the shit we own

straight out to the dump —

where else does it belong?

We started so many times

buildin’ a world from scratch

what the fuck difference

if we gotta do it again —

puttin’ up our tents,

erectin’ cardboard houses,

buildin’ our drum-fires

to warm the midnight streets?

We got nothin’ else to do.

We got nowhere else to go.

The god-damned earth

belongs to us.



The Coats

by Peter Marin

Let each man with two coats

explain to the mirror

why God should not punish him

while others have none —

freezing now, and snow falling,

and those without coats

huddled on city corners

or crumpled in doorways

or standing, hands out,

at the concert-hall door.

Didn’t they fight your wars?

Didn’t they pave your roads?

Didn’t they tend you gently

when injured at the hospital

you ached for human touch?

Night after night, they die.

Night after terrible night

they sigh themselves away

in dumpsters, in burnt buildings,

in the back seats of junked cars

on the far edge of your cities.

They crowd your bedrooms in the dark,

they huddle under your silk sheets,

unseen, they bend over each sleeper

and touch with bloodied palms

this face, that breast,

given the task by a god

who wants no one to forget.

When, at night, you examine yourself,

there they are, in the mirror,

their pale faces the sky,

their tears the shimmering stars,

their trembling arms extended —

ah, you know whose arms those are!




by Peter Marin

Midnight bought the farm,

Stone Eddie cashed in,

Red Sunshine is down —

the word comes out along

the grapevine like drums

in the jungle or a card

carried on a silver dish.

Each time you hear it

a tree crashes down —

God’s hand laying low

every man I ever knew.

Whole towns have dried up

with men the wild beasts

pressed to barbed wire

thirsty and spent —

a cheap hotel torn down,

a lunchroom boarded up,

an old pawn-shop closed.

What’s left for us, the zoo?

Forty years on the road

you get an elephant’s hide,

but when last week I saw

that down by the river

they’d paved the jungle over

I knelt on the bank and I cried.



Ark of Loneliness

by Peter Marin

Filing in, one by one,

as if into an ark

of loneliness, out of the rain,

the shelter, its gray

emptiness anchored

at the bottom by green cots

arranged in rows, boots

tucked under, men asleep,

rocked on the surface

of watery dreams by a

great storm never to end.


“Going Nowhere.” Maynard Dixon said his painting of a man walking down railroad tracks showed the “mood of a man over 50 who had slept too often in the rain.”


Not One

by Peter Marin

The poor line the hall

on your way to the bathroom.

They wait at the foot of the stairs

when you go for the mail.

They’re in the backseat

backing out of the driveway

on your way to the store.

And they dine beside you

unspoken at the table

waiting patiently for bread.

They never put out their hands.

They keep their eyes shut.

They hold up no signs.

But crossing the streets

you will know them from dreams

though their faces turn away.

There is not one who does not see you:

you must change your life.



Once All of Them Boys

by Peter Marin

Here is the drunk man,

here is the one-legged man,

here is the man talking to himself

in the voice of another, a master.

Here is the drugged man,

here is the man without legs —

four wheels and leathered fists.

Here is the naked man in a doorway,

here is the huddled man in a womb,

here is a bogey man, frightened.

Here is a man adrift on a raft,

here is a man marooned on an island,

here is an infantry-man left to die

here is an old man left on an ice floe.

Here is a learned man, mindless.

Here is a dancing man, lame.

Here is a working man, idle.

Here is a kind man, gone bad.

Here are the men, once all of them boys

hopeful of futures, anxious for joys,

now asleep in a subway

with its dirt and its noise.



The Babies

by Peter Marin

It’s the babies, the babies,

the babies — the streets by day

the shelter at night

and the kids squabbling and no

school and the five of us

place to place hour by hour

walking and sitting

and waiting to eat.

It’s what breaks your heart and

your back aches and legs give out

one in your arms

another on your shoulders

two of them tugging at your hands.

It’s like a long march

a forced journey

the Israelites crossing the desert —

so hot in the sun

you think you’ll faint

so cold at dusk you think you’ll die

and the shelter miles away

and hours before it opens

and no sweaters for the kids

and all of them crying I want I want

and you’re always saying

no no no no no no no no

so that it gets to be a kind of song

one no for each time

your foot comes down

trying for luck not to

step on the cracks




by Peter Marin

May they blaze, golden

in Jerusalem’s light,

burning as if the hair

on God’s beckoning arm

had burst into wheat

in whole fields aflame,

as if time was theirs,

as if the great fires

of love repressed

swept across thought,

as if eyes were hands,

as if need were touch,

as if loss were gain,

as if hope were have,

as if from the loins

of dream came truth —

theirs the brute pain,

theirs the bright sin,

theirs the bent sign

of love twisted and saved,

theirs the land taken,

theirs the soul given,

theirs the coming and gone,

the woods yellow and green,

the fields open and full

on the first and final days

of the rest of their lives

driven from exile into Eden.

Bless them now, Father,

in their loneliness;

forgive them, Mother,

in their sorrow.

Set their sad tables,

make their last beds,

open the shut gates

that all may come in.

May the heavens be an ear

for their stories untold;

in times past and to come

grant them justice and bread.




The Shelter

by Peter Marin

Women and kids to one side,

men to the other, intake workers

weeding out the drunks and bums —

makes you think of the camps.

You been here before?

You promise to work?

Can you prove who you are?

It’s like crossing a border,

it’s like entering heaven,

as the keepers of the gate,

with blank implacable eyes,

decide who lives, who dies.




by Peter Marin

No theory! Only

the act of compassion

repeated again and again

brings God into the world.

Here he is, his hand out, or

badly playing a battered clarinet,

bucket beside him on the street.

Hey bud, ya gotta buck?

It’s a ticket to the boneyard.

It’s the price of living in America.

It’s the last chance you have

to make it in the back door

of heaven. Hey, take it, bro!

And the song he is playing,

I’m Gonna Buy a Paper Doll,

drifts over the empty streets.

Berkeley shelter closes

The closure of the largest homeless shelter in Berkeley leaves many with nowhere to go

Writing for the Street Spirit: My 17 Year Journey

Writing for Street Spirit has awakened in me a sense of responsibility toward others. Street Spirit is a way for people silenced by big money and big media to have a voice.

Animal Friends: A Saving Grace for Homeless People

“I wrapped her in my jacket and promised I’d never let anybody hurt her again. And that’s my promise to her for the rest of her life. In my mind she’s a little angel that saved me as much as I saved her.”

A Testament to Street Spirit’s Justice Journalism

The game was rigged against the poor, but I will always relish the fact that Street Spirit took on the Oakland mayor and city council for their perverse assault on homeless recyclers. For me, that was hallowed ground. I will never regret the fact that we did not surrender that ground.

Tragic Death of Oakland Tenant Mary Jesus

Being evicted felt like the end of her life. As a disabled woman, she saw nothing ahead but a destitute life on the streets. She told a friend, “If I’m evicted tomorrow, I have no choice but to kill myself. I have no resources, no savings, no money, and nowhere to go.”

They Left Him to Die Like a Tramp on the Street

Life is sacred. It is not just an economic statistic when someone suffers and dies on the streets of our nation. It is some mother’s son, or daughter. It is a human being made in the image of God. It is a desecration of the sacred when that life is torn down.