The March 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Truth About Care Not Cash

Resistance to Brown's Curfew

No Millionaire Left Behind

Bush Policies Punish the Poor

Bush Rigs U.S. Society for Rich

SOS! Save Our Services

Faith Reflection on Bush Budget

Plan to End Homelessness in Ten Years

Counted Out in San Francisco

Artist Portrays Act of Giving

Berkeley Protest Demands Shelter from the Storm

Transformation of Dignity Village

George Wynn's Homeless Fiction

Poor Leonard's Almanack

Poetry of the Streets


May 2005

February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.


Poetry of the Streets

"Bring the Troops Home Now!" A large demonstration aginst the War in Iraq.

For the Death of a Friend
by Julia Vinograd

Ben Jr, captain. Dead. Blown up in Iraq.
That's all I know.
Your father wants a poem.
I know him as Ben, not Ben senior.
Your being dead hurts more than the war,
how can he think about politics?
He's thinking about the last time he saw you
and what you both said and didn't say
and should've said and all gone now,
all gone.
Or when you decided you were too old
for a baby name he gave you
or an argument about a friend or a girl
or how homecooking was just for kids.
But you always knew your Dad would be there
for you no matter what you both said.
You died alone.
You died alone.
He blames himself. He loves you.
You'd be indignant, you were your own man
not just someone's son.
But I'm writing this poem for someone's son,
and yes, you loved him
no matter what you both said.

by Julia Vinograd

It's Valentine's day.
Do our fighter jets drop lace-trimmed
red plush hearts instead of bombs?
A litter of love over targets on a map?
Hearts that say "darling" and "forever"
in a gold-scrolled language
the people they fall on can't read.
It's Valentine's day.
Do machineguns start shooting
the very best dark chocolate creams
instead of bullets, smearing brown faces black
and bringing back memories of poison gas?
Anything they haven't seen before
must be trying to kill them.
It's Valentine's day.
Do we send diamond engagement rings
in white, silk-lined boxes
to everyone who lost a loved one in the killer wave?
Tell them all their memories are caught inside
and they'll try to eat diamonds,
what else do they have to eat?
It's Valentine's day.
Do the homeless scrawl shaky hearts
on their cardboard signs in hopes
of kisses tossed in their plastic cups?
It's Valentine's day.
On every battlefield in the world
does spilled blood turn to long-stemmed
American Beauty Roses,
the petals brushing faces of the wounded so gently?
Grown men no longer strong enough
to crush a rose in their fists.
It's Valentine's day.
It changes nothing.

by Jack Hirschman

How many sons and daughters
of the hundreds of men and women in Congress
are fighting in Iraq? Two.
Well, it's a volunteer army,
and the men and women in Congress, what with
deals and private investments, are, for the most part,
millionaires. Youknowwomsayin'.
Their kids don't have to take a military wash
because they're dirtied up with racist slurs,
threatened with fear of jail, pursued by poverty
like the 20 percent of African-Americans
in the armed forces (African-Americans represent
only 12 per cent of the population),
or the heavy percent of Latinos
and poor whites as well, taking orders,
doing a job on a country half of whose population
are children 15 years old or younger.

And I'm supposed to feel patriotic
and embrace this push for planetary domination
on the part of that junta of deaths-heads
that daily floats its moral abominations
on the channels of our despair?

Nuclear fear's brought God back from the dead
and Holy Wars look each other in their lies
while children here and children there
are ravaged to the roots of their still possibly
innocent smiles.
In their little heads, in their doorways and beds,
they wish they may, they wish they might
bury you, you killer squirt,
for all the children that you've hurt,
and they'll throw happy dirt on your corpse,
Mr. President! Youknowwomsayin'.

Road Kill
by Claire J. Baker

On the bumpy road of life
I tried to cross to the sunny
side of the street;
greedy landlords shot a hole
through my heart,
bullets through my feet.

What the hell:
you can kick me aside
into the gutter I know so well.
Mine is another world -
a netherworld you hate.
Forgive me, my luck is late.

My cart is rusty, rickety,
piled with all I own.
I'm all dressed up (in rags),
no place to go,
and silent,
silent as stone.

Remembering Mary Jesus
(Infamy in Oakland)
by Claire J. Baker

While President Bush preaches
"protection for the American people"
Mary Jesus leaps to her death
from the Tribune Tower steeple.

The Eternal March
by Husayn Sayfuddiyn

I went on the Poor People's March with lots of young fighters
People who still cared to save the world
Who knew it really needed saving
Who weren't waiting for the Messiah and Mahdi
That struggle is Eternal
And little old me
Inspired by the brave young girls
The proud manchild looking for his promised land
I refused to leave with empty cup and heart
And disappoint the Doctor
That his struggle and the life he put in harm's way was not in vain.
I also felt satisfaction in that I was able
To defy the Beast and get in his face
Something I've been trying to do for so long
How many thugs and dogs I've dodged just to get there
And strike my feeble blow.
I've always wondered where people's power lay
I found it there before the White House
It's in The Dream.

Have Nots
by Claire J. Baker

The "have nots" are really
the "haves," like have no job,
no place to sleep or weep,
little hope that isn't yanked
right back from under
their faltering feet.

Have to move on, no matter
what time of night or day.
By the time this poem is read
by anyone with an iota of care,
too many homeless will have
faced extreme deprivation...

by Claire J. Baker

An elder I respect
tells me: "The homeless
want to be homeless."

I reply, "No, there are
greedy landlords, stingy
federal policies, leaky
safety nets, rampant job

cuts. Add addiction,
illness, spousal abuse,
accidents, no health insurance
or low-cost housing."

She sticks to her stance.
And I stand by mine.
In the meantime, the homeless
go on being homeless.

Mother Loss
by Joan Clair

I wanted to call my mother
to let her know,
"I want to come home."
But I couldn't remember
the number of her telephone.
She'd been gone so long.
When she was alive
she was too depressed to build a nest.
I never felt that I belonged.
But still, "Mother," my soul cries,
"I want to come home."

The Old Ones
by Michael Creedon

I am unblemished, jobless,
homeless and pure,
crippled and falling, aging and
doubtful, hopeful, solo, and free.
I am touched by cracked fire.
The honed flames burn.
I am a man with a plan.
When I cannot walk, wounded,
I hop.

I am prepared to read the faces
of my precursors on the street.
I do not fear the camera.
I live in my severed peace and
The old ones are coming.

wet song of winter
by Randy Fingland

from this rain
this cold
causes the bones
to hear the pounding
of each drop
as it hits the growing puddles
on the concrete
to prevent fully any dry out
in the moments that cut
like wind on damp skin
shivering inside shoes
squeaking with
too much moisture

Way Too Many People in the World
by Holman Monell

What with the weather
and everything,
I don't know what
we had to talk about.

All the currents
in current events
passing, so to say,
into oblivion.

some sooner than others
now news of a great wave
very far away

Yes, way too many people,
too little help, disaster
stench of death, but
what about compassion?

Some Great Silent Grief
by Holman Monell

Some great silent grief seems to sit
in her young unweeping face,
not quite crying out, twisting
a strand of sad blonde hair,
the other hand crushed
to the mouth as she looks
impassively on tragedy
with bloodshot eyes,
sees no way out.

Is she one of Dorothea Lange's?
The black and white photos,
sharecroppers' wives and kids,
dirty in the dirty yard --
Is this a great grandchild?
She says she is, then silently
begins again to weep.

Experience at the Faithful Fools Retreat on the Streets
by Maureen Hartmann

I felt like a fool, like St. Francis of Assisi,
who was a fool for Christ,
wandering the streets in the Tenderloin District,
taking the chance of being robbed or worse.
I was angry when the man whom I was treating
to a cup of coffee and a burrito at Carl's, Jr.
said "Get back from the counter
and let the people in back of you order"
when I was demanding the bean burrito
which had not come with the coffee.
I could have teased him,
"You know a lot about restaurants, don't you."
I was also angry when the woman
on the sidewalk with a brown blanket
whom I offered to treat to a cup of coffee said,
"I don't need anything, Get away from me!"
I said, "OK" and left. But maybe I could have
provoked a conversation with her
by saying, "But I care about you."
I felt like asking a police officer, who was
apparently walking a beat in the UN Plaza,
what he thought of
the yellow-tape barriers around the fountain.
But I decided not to risk a question
and so never found out what he really felt.
I think of all the interesting conversations
I could have had!

Birds Fly and Sing
by Holman Monell

Birds fly and sing
bells and voices ring
in the chill air as solstice
creeps upon a winter world,
and the Christ child's born
in Fallujah, of an Iraqi Maria,
as birds sing and fly,
and people die -
bells and voices continually ring.
All say Amen.

by Michael Creedon

Cathy, your clothes are always clean.
Cathy, we talk a few minutes
while you panhandle.
Cathy, you sell the Street Spirit too.
Cathy, your business is in Berkeley
But you sleep in a Richmond shelter.
How long can this go on?
We meet and talk on various buses.
Cathy, you're attractive and
your face is pretty.
Cathy, this has gone on for years.
I wonder what the future holds for you.
Cathy, my heart breaks for you.
You speak your voice and opinions.
You belong in the university.
Cathy, Cathy, I am sad for you.

Ash Wednesday
by Chris Trian

I mark my forehead
with the ashes of the burning world,
with the ashes of the burning people
who are dying of our burning soul.
And it is our soul,
the living too are on fire.
Our ashes are mixed together
in the crematorium of history
for this unnecessary

I anoint my forehead
with the sign of a crucified planet.
Like a third eye,
it sees into the darkness.
Millions, billions of victims
put to death
for thinking,
as though God gave us not
our brains and wills.
As though it was a crime
to be human and to doubt
the status quo of the law.

I mark my brow
with a new law,
a communion of sinners
not just saints;
the sign of the cross
like any two crossed streets
on any intersection in America.
Intersection of hope and fear.
Intersection of survival and death.
Intersection where
the darkness meets the darkness
and the light kisses the light.
Something is opened and
something is held up like a heart
between the eyes
crying like a newborn child.
The child is hope.
The ashes are the past.
The mark on my forehead
is a scarecrow burned
and pierced with arrows,
signaling to the sisters and brothers
who find themselves with
nowhere to sleep.
And though many have homes,
there is still nowhere to sleep
in America this Ash Wednesday.

I mark my forehead
with the ashes
of the phoenix.
The phoenix is the citizenry of the world.
It rises awkwardly like a bumblebee
on wings too small for its great bulk.
Ten billion people's worth of bulk,
or is it bigger?
Soon there will be more people
than there are stars.
The stars too are homeless
and the black holes
are ash marks on the forehead
of God.
Everything mourns
for this wrong direction
time has taken,
which only space can save.
Not the space on the streets
or in The Inn,
but the space in the heart
where all the burning buildings
gather, people leaping from their roofs.

It is not the fault
of politics or politicians only.
They will have their reward.
It is the fault
of the loss of our memory
that we were CONNECTED once.
That WE are the Holy Grail
of immortality.
That we are ONE FLESH.
That the ashen cross
was once a living tree
with ten billion leaves.
That we are that tree of life.
That the fire is not a holocaust
but a Holy Cost.
And that cost is simple.
That we see ourselves
in the faces of those
whose ashes we wear
whose faces we see
tied to the crossroads of everywhere.

There is no time
to wait for a savior.
We must BE that savior,
or go in sackcloth and ashes
backward into dinosaurs,
as the planet survives,
because she dances
to a different drummer,
who knows nothing
of Wednesdays or ashes.
A planet who still remembers
how to dance on point
even if her children
have fallen.

Because a new plague is upon us.
Its name is ignorance and denial.
And no flower's scent
can mask its death.
"Ring around the rosies.
Pocket full of posies.
Ashes, ashes,
We all fall down."
Or maybe not.
The choice must be made

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Editor : Terry Messman

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