Breathing with the Men


Enter the shelter room
your first night and take your lead
from the men. Get your gear
into your tote box,
(You can’t keep anything
that won’t fit in your tote),
and mark a mattress on the floor.
Note how the men fit the corners
under the edges, and spread their blankets.
It’s still early, but it’s also late.
It took these guys most of what they had
to get through the day. Perhaps your day,
also, was a bit like theirs. They’re tired.
You’re not one of the homeless, not by definition.
Los desamparados. The homeless.
Living in cars or vehicles. From sofa to sofa.
Places that aren’t adequate for people to live in.
Un individuo sin hogar permanente.
You, yourself, may have never slept on the street,
much less under a bridge.

Maybe though, because of your good fortune
you know that poem of Rilke’s, Autumn.
If so, and you think of it, that might make you
think twice. We all are falling. Or this,
from Autumn Day: Who’s homeless now,
will for long stay alone. You know,
if you know this poem, the poet’s talking
about one who is at home in his body,
one who has completed his poem, if you will.
His house is built. If you don’t know your own soul,
you won’t like this poem, restlessly wandering
from work to store. From store to home
doing chores. Perhaps attending Church on Sunday.

You are not one of the homeless.
You have a home. You made your bed.
Lay down on the mattress now.
The men are already asleep.
Six of them tonight. You’re the seventh son.
You’re with five of the six from last night.
One is new. You haven’t met him.
It did take everything they had to get here.
To get through the day.
You don’t ask them where they’ve been.
What they did. You’re on your back,
hands behind your head on the pillow.
There’s no pillow case. Cool, like rubber.
Breathe yourself. Breathe with the men,
and listen to them breathe. Listen
to the men breathing. You are practiced in this.
You listen to your wife breathing. It comforts you.
This is different. That’s true, too.
They’re breathing hard now.
Breathing, farting, rolling on the mattresses.
All of these mattresses on the floor
in an unused room in the church.
You are breathing and farting yourself.
Breathing and farting with the men.
Rolling now, trying to find a fit on the mattress.
Now your arms crossing over your chest. How odd.
You don’t do that at home. Home?
Aren’t you home where you’re at?
There was heat in the room when you entered,
but it’s been turned off. It’s cold outside
and getting colder. The floor is cold
and the mattress is cold. You get up
and go to your tote. You’re still in your jeans
and you go to get your coat. Sleeping in your Levis?
You put your coat over your chest, underneath the blanket.
You close your eyes and listen.
You don’t think about a thing.
You have come to this evening, a finished man.
You don’t know what to say.
You try not to name it.

Jim Bodeen
16-18 December 2015

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