KETARI, THE SHELTERED CHILD
Dr. Williams riffs
one of them
going over the Falls
by the old reform school
Beautiful, beautiful thing.
kernel of gold
slipped into Ketari’s
mitten last night
at the Shelter
under a foot of new snow
Mom and Grandma
seated on folded
Bashert from Zev
A silver dollar
with new mittens
yarn from all colors
of the rainbow
into old canvas Army tent
a single string
chile and cornbread
after new snowfall
15 record inches
and cold hard love
Hard gold to love
Dr. Williams wrote
a mother’s milk
Hard gold to love
this man walking
with a satchel
full of poems
I knew they were there
I did I knew it
I didn’t know
they were there for me
Didn’t know that
into the child’s
pocket of mittens
at the shelter
gold and silver
12 February 2019
JYPSY ROZE AND THE RANGER
Jypsy Roze, Get it, she says, I do outreach at the shelter. Can’t tell you where they’re at. We go out just after dark trying to get them to come in. Last few mornings it’s been 6 degrees. It’s cold, but in the three camps, there are survivalists, and they help others survive. I leave a bag of food
hung on the tree for the Ranger. He is a Ranger. He don’t want to be found. I write him notes.
He’s afraid to come in. He don’t want to be found yet. He writes notes. I write back. Last week he asked me my name. Jypsy Roze. Get it?
12 February 2019
HOW I GOT TO THE SHELTER
No, I didn't want to crawl in these tents.
I didn't want to open this street door.
Afraid of what I might find in myself?
You bet. Yet here I am on the eve
of St. Valentine's day, watching Karen
hand out Valentine cupcakes
at the shelter as the men came in.
29 degrees on the car thermometer
as we drove down. I was caught
by my own poems, two poets
whose mothers are on the streets,
and several encounters with Christ
we won't go into here. Trust me,
they happened. Some say
I don't believe in anything
except miracles. Others maintain
the empirical is all I know.
The monk's book on the hassock
in front of me has home in the title.
These men have so little
that it's easy to share.
They build community sustaining
themselves through winter.
Solidarity is only needed in Hell.
We all became homeless the day
Adam stepped out of the garden.
Two steps. Twelve steps. 120 steps.
That story in Milton, Paradise Lost.
As soon as you duck under the rope
you're on your own.
Adam stops, turns around,
looks Raphael in the eye:
One question, he says.
How do angels make love?
Not for you to know, he says,
blushing. But it's easier
than air with air.
no elbows, no knees.
Light inter-penetrating light.
I don't go to the shelter
for the men, I go there
for me. I know
what many people
think of the poem.
I'm down with that, OK?
Cards on Valentine's Day.
I don't put any of that on the men.
I love the way they thanked Karen
for red frosting hearts on cupcakes.
But I don't use that word homeless.
At some point, since that day
Adam ducked under the rope
it's about all of us.
How's your love life?
15 February 2017
“Homelessness is a justice issue,” Pastor Dan Bryant says in Yakima, WA, invited by Faith Communities and Association of Churches. Pastor Bryant, Executive Director of Square One Housing, from Eugene, OR, informs community members gathered in Yakima’s Vineyard Church, what they’re doing in Eugene, to confront, and erase, homelessness. Tiny houses and Opportunity Village represent part of what is being done. This video includes photos and presentation by Pastor Bryant.
NO ONE DIED
—for Frank Ramirez, Joan Fiset, and the countless professionals and volunteers who work with the homeless in Yakima, and for Felicity, from Central Lutheran Church.
[Names have been changed, except for those whose statements are on the public record.]
The Ides of March, 2016
Don’t go out today, I know, I know.
It’s Tuesday, and Tuesday is the day I get to spend with the homeless, the unhoused ones. My season with the men. The season that began in Mid-December. I’m still a baby, pink-cheeked beginner at 70. A former student, who runs this operation, cobbled it together, really, said to us then, “It’s a privilege to spend the night with these men.” His words in my notebook this morning. Extreme Winter Weather Shelter.
Tuesday evenings in the Lutheran Church basement during winter.
My job is called the monitor. There are two monitors each night. We’re part of a community program involving nearly 40 agencies. It boggles one’s day planner to try and take it in, understand it. How the men understand remains one of my questions. Extreme action cutting through levels of bureaucracy to keep from dealing with homelessness head on.
Two monitors and two greeters each night at our facility. Monitors spend the night. Monitors secure belongings, which includes isolating belongings also,( reducing risks of drug and alcohol abuse), checking the building every hour for the Fire Marshall, monitoring smoke breaks, being eyes for the church facility, ensuring quiet nights for those men sleeping on mattresses on the floor. What makes the encounter an encounter? Being with the men as they prepare for sleep, making the small talk as they make their beds, laughing a bit when the chance comes, and saying good night. The privilege comes with the breathing during the night—breathing with the men, listening to the sounds of restlessness of the bodies, and the sounds of the mattresses, too. Plastic covered mattresses on a hard tile floor mixing with the sounds of the furnace. Men breathing, coughing, farting, coughing. Men exhausted from the day. Men getting up to go to the bathroom. Sometimes I’m on a mattress, but most of the time, as a monitor, I’m on a couch in the hallway across from the men’s room. I see and hear the men shuffling their feet, most of them sleeping in socks, as they get up to go to the bathroom.
My job is small. Like a reporter. A woman from our church, a young mother, is our angel. A director, really. The one who sees and knows. She can be glimpsed in this report from time to time. This is how she wants it. She’s the one who led our church through the winter.
Today is my last night. My last Tuesday. Tuesday is also the day when the weekly debriefing meetings are held. What are the incidents of the week? The reports of the 40 organizations.
The Extreme Winter Weather Shelter ends this week. I have some hats for the men, good ones. And some socks and gloves and things. A few books and a bilingual Bible. My last night, the shelter’s last week. And After Friday? Well, weather’s getting warmer. The men, well, some of the men prefer to be outside anyway. There’s the river. There’s the Mission, and well, weather’s getting warmer. Some will move on.
Opposition exists in the community, and for that matter, opposition also exists in the church where I serve as a monitor once a week. Compassion too. Compassion from some of the places where opposition originates. And fear. Lots of fear. More fear than homelessness. Fear, opposition, compassion, oh, and lawsuits. Lawsuits over finding and making a place.
One of the voices of compassion, a prophetic voice in my mind, comes from Don Hinman, Chairman of the Board, and Co-Founder of Neighborhood Health Services, long-time Yakima visionary, who has published two letters to the editor this winter to accompany his political work as a voice for the homeless in the community. In quoting from his letters, I quote them because I believe in their intelligence and vision. In February his letter begins, “City of Yakima’s homeless policy seems to be chasing homeless people from one place to another without any clear end objective. It’s a policy that shows little understanding of the complexities of homelessness.”
Making homelessness a priority is what Hinman urges for the City Council. He cites the complexities of homeless adults nationwide: 29 percent severely mentally ill, 22 percent physically disabled, 18 percent employed, 17 percent victiims of domestic violence, 12 percent veterans and 4 percent HIV positive. One person may appear in multiple categories.
“To get people off the streets, there has to be a place for them to go…”The fact is it’s less expensive to provide services and housing than for the person to be in the hospital or jail.” In the more recent letter, Hinman writes, “To date the city has not made ending homelessness in Yakima a top priority. ...Recent court decisions are ruling criminalizing a person’s homeless status rather than unlawful behavior is unconstitutional.” Hinman is a practical visionary. He concludes, “If there aren’t enough beds or public restrooms, homeless individuals have no choice but to sleep or go to the bathroom in public.”
I quote Don Hinman here because I’ve admired his voice in our community over nearly half a century. His is the smarter voice. The more intelligent man. The compassionate voice.
I didn’t want to be here, either. And wouldn’t have been, but for my friendship with Joan Fiset. Her books. The story of her mother. Her new book, Namesake.
Pink Floyd sings from the past, “Make sure we keep talking.” Refugees and homelessness. Poets and Theologians. Particular and universal. No ideas but in things. Mary Campbell, gives us the word glocal. Global/Local. Inter-relatedness.
Violence has forced 60 million people from their homes according to the UN High Commission for Refugees. The number of refugees and internally displace people has reached its highest point since WWII.
“War reporting tends to capture the devastation of buildings and casualties of battle, but it’s harder to visualize the effect of conflict on those who aren’t killed or enlisted to fight. Even sweeping vistas of tent cities set up at dusty border crossings don’t seem to convey the scale of destruction.”
Refugees and Internally Displaced People around the globe make up for one in every 122 people worldwide. “Put yet another way, that’s roughly the equivalent of the entire population of Italy being pushed out of their homes.”
The Global Peace Index, produced by the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace, places the numbers in a broader context of conflict. It it seems like the world is getting more violent at the moment, that's not just an illusion--the Index's metrics suggest that the world has become less peaceful over the last eight years, after a sustained period of improved stability after the Cold War. But the most important effects are probably hidden far in the future. Studies have documented the deep and long-lasting effects that war and migration have on mental health. And World War II led to huge cultural changes across the glove, from the elimination of centuries-old ways of living to an intellectual efflorescence in the United States spurred in part by European Jewish refugees. While it's impossible to predict what changes today's surge of refugees and IDPs will set in motion, it's fair to assume the reverberations will extend far beyond the Middle East.
No one died.
This winter, in Yakima, no one died. Winter Solstice Peace Vigil four months ago, remembered fifteen who died homeless in Yakima County, the previous year.
I'm on the couch in the hallway of the basement of the Lutheran Church in Yakima where I attend, where my wife and I have been members since 1972. It's just after 10 pm during the first week of Daylight Savings Time. The width of the hallway measures nine tiles. Tiles are square, longer than my hand. Somewhere between 8-19 inches, so I'm guessing the hallway is about 8' wide. The couch runs lengthwise, and I'm laying on it now. It takes about two-and-a-half feet, so this is the side of the wall, about six feet from me, something like that. The length of the hallway must be about 70'--80', and at each end there is a rectangular EXIT sign, all capital letters backlit by a green bulb. Both EXIT signs are lit by these green-lit signs. Earlier, shortly after the men in the Shelter Room had turned out their lights, I unbuckled my Levis, tucked in my shirt, and kicked my shoes off. Walking around the church in my stockings. Let my toes breathe a bit. It has been a long day. And the night with the men stays with one into the next day, into, and through, the week. This is my bedroom, this 80' rectangular hallway, lit by two EXIT signs lit by green bulbs. This has been my bedroom during these Tuesday evenings of winter shelter. I began sleeping in the room with the men, but I found that it took more time to recover. I discovered, too, it's not the best of rooms. It's crowded, and the air's not good. Not with colds, not during flu season. The men's breathing never left me. So, my bedroom. These Tuesday evenings with a camera monitoring system trained on me too. I'm a monitor myself, and the irony is not lost on me, that I, too, am being monitored. Monitored as I hunker down on this couch, blanket pulled up, pillow over the end cushion, backpack and books on floor beside me, shoes kicked off.
I know that I'm being monitored because a month ago, I was in the pastor's office and saw it. The monitor and me. One and the same. The monitor screen broken down into a dozen images. For some reason, I looked up and saw myself in one of the little pictures from the night before. It was Wednesday, the day after my Tuesday night monitoring at the winter shelter.
This winter no one died.
THE HOT SPOT
It's a room, that's all it is.
The Hot Spot is a room at The Depot.
The Depot is Homeless Central
Enter through an un-marked door
on Sixth Street. It has its own kind
of exclusiveness. Exclusive
with an open door if you're homeless.
Entering, the kitchen's on your right.
The kitchen. It's a smaller room
inside a larger room.
The Hot Spot is warm.
A place to get out of the cold
during the day. The kitchen
has a microwave, a sink,
a pile of nasty mattresses.
Mattresses that have been 86ed--
no longer usable. No sign here
of the Health Inspector.
About 20-25 people today.
Chair, or sofa spot, for all.
Free t-shirts too. Want one?
I pick one up.
Black cotton. Smart.
Sharp with white lettering.
Bold. Want one? the lady asks
again, holding one up for me.
They're extra. Seconds.
"Attendance Makes the Difference"
White on black. Underneath:
"Make Every Day Count!
Too cool, this backside.
Turn it over--
on the front:
SERGEANT FIRST CLASS BEAU
White on black again. With his phone number:
Real bold. A recruiting move.
The National Guard recruiter
makes his first move at the Hot Spot.
The men and women
at the Hot Spot
thank him wearing his work.
The season ends this week for those governing, for those cobbling these 40 organizations together. Our leader says he won't miss his two phones ringing at night when he's with his family. He'll miss these men. And he's been the one who's had to say no to them all winter when rules weren't being followed. He's the heavy one with the tough love. Extreme Winter Homelessness Shelter ends this week. No one died. That one earns some applause from the volunteers in the room. What now? It's update time for the final week.
Staffing, volunteers. A clothing change. Acknowledgment and thanks. Before and after pictures. "Numbers speak for themselves. We've made a difference, the manager says. "They're alking to each other. They're helping you help them. 66 women went through the program. Four were housed. Of the 66 women, only eight didn't have statistical changes in their health and well-being. I'll have all the numbers for the April celebration. Our worst case scenario is heroin-free."
Some of the favorite winter memories recalled. "We had one fight. Sounds like a fight that needed to happen. Those two. Yes. Went from, 'I wanted to kill him,' to 'Why can't we just get along?' And the man who is ready to be housed--I know, I know--but I don't know how. That's our job. Show how the change happens. Model it. The cost of giving up food for cigarettes. The volunteer who says, 'I just want to understand their stories."
Out here you don't tell on people.
I just got rid of Joe. I can't get rid of you, too.
In the shelter, they'll tell
on bad behavior.
There's a trust out there.
And there's a trust in here, too.
I've seen places bigger than this.
There's no beer in church, man.
And this is a church.
Frank, our leader, looks at us. He's the one who said at the beginning, "It's a privilege to sleep with these men." He says to us this morning, "I feel humbled to know there's a community of people like you. This has been rewarding, regardless of the sleepless nights. It became part of me. We started slow. No idea what we were doing."
No one died this year.
No one passed away
because of the weather
"get the change of clothes rotation going. We'll get th showers figured out for spring and summer. We've got men and women coming forward with promises of jobs."
THE HOT SPOT IS A SPONTANEOUS CREATION
HOW DID THE HOT SPOT GET STARTED?
It didn't exist when the shelter opened.
Men and women hanging out
next to The Depot.
The Depot is Homeless Shelter Central.
A conference room
with an outside entrance.
An unmarked door.
One day, someone,
moving something inside,
held the door open
a moment too long.
Moving something, maybe.
One of the men outside says,
"Hey, there's a TV."
"It's a football game."
"Can we watch that game?"
"Hey," someone says.
Maybe someone moved inside.
Everybody comes in.
It's cold outside.
There is this game on the TV.
Then there were a few more chairs.
Someone says, "I have an old couch."
Someone asks about a microwave.
Someone brings a case of soup.
A Cup of Noodles--the whole case.
Then it was every day.
Sometimes someone makes real soup.
Some days it gets real crowded.
Someone, one day, names it.
I dunno who. Who named it?
It is, though. It is.
It's ours. Our creation.
They let it stay.
It started with a question.
Can we watch the game?
How did you get here? How did I get here. You mean, Welcome to my world? I didn't want to come. I'll tell you that. I had my head turned away from the conversation. Never thought it would happen. Didn't see it coming.
How one gets here is always a love story. What we talk about when we talk about love.
This is one account of one season. Each one of us has his own account. Her own version. A single winter. The winter in Yakima when no one died in the weather.
15-19 March 2016
IMAGINE THAT, IMAGINE THIS
I just kept sippin, Joseph says,
like you say, until that water
was gone, mixing it with my salava.
You were up all night, I say,
both of us worried about dehydration—
wondering when we were going to call
for the ambulance. Serenity’s here, it’s just
after 5, she makes pancakes, sausage, scrambled eggs,
with Yogurts for their pockets
when the bus comes. Extreme
Winter Weather Shelter’s winding down
with warmer weather, another couple weeks.
Go outside with Carl, his Government name.
Little Buffalo, for a smoke.
Did you know a tablespoon of peanut butter
every day keeps you from heart attack?
He feels like he’s been hit with a 2x4.
Getting over pneumonia. I’m full
of useless information. That’s why
we get on so well. You know
your Crazy Horse, I say. People
would like to call that useless.
He knows his Jesus, too.
You know you’re Crazy Horse.
Jesus and Crazy Horse.
Joseph was real sick. Over the toilet
at midnight until we forget about sleep.
Little Buffalo’s got work ahead of him,
a greenhouse to build for a lady,
and I got to get my ass in gear.
My sister’s getting married
in the Midwest, and I’ll probably lose
my job going back there for it.
Genetically altered corn and cancer risks.
Men talk. Waiting for the bus.
Cows, pigs, chickens, altering everything.
Joseph discovers I was Peter’s teacher.
You’re seeing yourself in a human mirror, he says.
I had this one teacher who showed us
how to structure a sentence, he says.
There were these two girls in that classroom.
I couldn’t wait to get there.
I told the one, You smell like
my grandmother’s perfume.
She said, This is the way I naturally smell.
You smell like a French whore I said,
but she didn’t get mad.
I couldn’t wait to get to class to talk to those two.
I never understood how to structure a sentence.
I never thought life was going to turn out
the way it is. I thought things were going
to get way better. The war was over.
What happened? Something happened?
Criminals know what the FBI is up to these days.
And it’s a good thing they do.
That’s your bigoted opinion.
Put it in your pocket and keep it.
Boy—I think we’re the only nation
that can sit and debate like this.
Equal armies. Genetically altered seeds.
I see our bus coming.
That’s the kind of vision I’m looking for.
9 March 2016
Winter Homeless Shelter Meeting
Neighborhood Health Center
1 March 2016
Talk with the guys
about an incident report
Guys have been getting
It’s a perspective
they’ve never thought about
Nice, but needy
Wanting attention, yeah—ok
Geronimo hasn’t said a thing
Lots of times
he would sanction himself
Someone asks, What happens when shelter ends in two weeks? Good question. Good question, for us, too. Sunrise. When it ends. Sandwich ministries. Sandwich ministries and make sandwiches. The men sleep by the river, wherever they can. Congregate by the Depot. City’s upset we won’t put up No Trespassing signs. At the Mission, if they go take a shower and leave their shoes out, maybe they won’t be there when they get back.
70 people at the Hot Spot without an incident. Daily basis. Enforcing some kind of rules, being systematic about it. AM-PM across the street, no complaints from them. It carries over.
Spice makes a difference, too. Spice makes them crazy. Attitudes change with Spice. They shut down the Spice operation and that makes a difference. What is it? Spice? Chemicals. Bath salts, inhaled. Makes them crazy.
Spice is synthetic marijuana. But it’s not marijuana. It’s a designer drug. A legal, well, legal substitute for weed. It gets you high—I got this fiya spice so I wont fail my drug test--
Along with bath salts, this is probable the second most dangerous shit you can put into your body without getting into law trouble. Shivering and paranoia, vomiting and increased heart rate. Like weed, minus the fun.
How deep the system is.
How well things are covered
You must have rules
You must enforce the rules
Even though we have a Harm Reduction Model
They see staff
do the work
and pick it up
We just give them
what we have
want to give up
pair of jeans
Can we talk about Walkup Procedure?
who never come to the Depot,
but come to the shelter
First time, ok
Most problems come from the shelter
They don’t know the rules
One of our monitors
has several apartments
She brings the men
three at a time
to whatever’s empty
so they can shower
and clean up
She has friends
who fix the hair
of the women
For ten years
my wife and I
what they call
for working budgets
for five people
one third budgeted
for Social Security
Extreme Winter Weather Homeless Shelter
Lutheran Church Basement
1 March 2016
Waiting for the men to arrive
in the hallway on the couch.
Windy, cold, after a day of rain,
sitting on the old green couch
opposite the room of the Coop Preschool.
This week’s theme: Numbers
and the 100th day of school. Letter:
no letters, numbers galore!
The color yellow.
A field trip announced for 15 March
to see Curious George at the Capitol Theatre.
The surprise of the shelter season—
all of the men surprise—is named
after one of the Gospel writers—
many of the men are so named, pick one,
pick Luke or Mark, pick John, pick Matthew—
is tall, slender, looming over the mattress
of a man named after the angel
who escorted Adam from the garden—
clean shaven, wiry grey hair
telling how three sleeping bags
with an Eddie Bauer air mattress
stuffed inside of one, he stayed warm
through a process of continual blowing.
He acts this out
He has the tired men laughing
from their mattresses on the floor.
My mother was crazy
but she was great
She prepared us for all this
Go on outside
It’s fun outside
Go now and come back later
And this is how
we learned to stay outside
We were in Pittsburgh
and Pittsburgh sits on hard coal
Pittsburgh sits on Anthracite,
tunnels and tunnels of coal
and my father would cock
his head at night listening
to the tap, tap, tapping
of the miners tunneling
into the coal
But the men are tired and most are already sleeping. Two of them get showers tonight in the church. There are showers behind the kitchen. Serenity makes a pot of coffee, and shows me a plastic tote for the dirty sheets in the morning. Not all of the shelters wash the sheets. Our shelter
is known as the Taj Mahal by the men. There are fewer men, also, at our shelter, and they’re screened by the system. We’re the newbies, beginning, and the homeless managers and the men, bring us along slowly. They don’t want to overwhelm us with numbers, with conditions too extreme. Serenity won’t be here in the morning. My companion of nearly 40 years will be here with breakfast. Serenity has left him a note for some of the men’s dirty clothes.
My friend from the church community arrives at 5:30 and turns on the lights. He won’t wake the men until just before six. As monitor, my job is to make an hourly walk-through fire inspection during the night. There is paper work with my initials. Mostly I hear the men sleeping and getting up to go to the bathroom. My couch is in the hallway between the bathroom and the pre-school doors.
My new friend from last night, the one carrying the name of the Gospel is older than I am, and a veteran. I learned this last night, trying to get his age. He was stationed in Germany. He made rank, and he was a medic. SP4. We had things between us. He explains the difference between a drafted soldier and one who enlists. He is four years older than I am. He begins again, at breakfast.
I slept like a rock
I slept good, like a baby
But I can’t drink milk
I develop rings around my belly
if I drink milk
Back when I was building
when I got poor
I was a stutterer
and a bed wetter
and I’d be walking
down to the mission
I gave up buying a car
and I finally got rid
of the stuttering
I worked in Renton
at Plant 2, where
you’d come up to the top
of the hell and turn left
I used to turn down
and see Mt. Baker
I was a final assembly mechanic
Here’s the door, back of the airplane
I looked at it
I was about in my 40s
I had light, I had this sill,
I had to take it out—
I started seeing that drill bit twice—
My dad built a house
and the stairs were too steep
I fell, and the doctors
and the bills, and there was food,
there was always food
but he could only put down
so many floors a day
and then he fell
into that rototiller
and those blades
but there was still food
Even then I saw
as much food as before
I’m going to build a gyrocopter
It has wings instead of blades
I can’t live in a box
Feel this air we have this morning
Breathe this air
He can who thinks he can
Orison Swett Marden
wrote that book
He Can Who Thinks He Can
and he did it
He was a bound out orphan
and he did it
he wrote the book
and I read it
1 March—2 March 2016
EXTREME WINTER WEATHER SHELTER VISIONS
Lean, good looking, with trimmed beard,
over the distinctive jaw, tight shirt
underneath the beanie on his head,
itself covered by a hoodie,
he didn’t recognize the man
as the boy who stole the cherries
as a boy, his neighbor
in the shared drive-way
where they lived
for four decades.
He went to the private Christian school.
He married the beauty queen
from the nearby town,
and he played gospel piano
at the Pentecostal church.
He was a golden child
showing up at the shelter
early wanting to help,
just out of treatment himself.
Don’t you remember me,
he asked the man, his neighbor.
His neighbor knew him in diapers,
hasn’t seen him in nears,
and now it all comes tumbling back
in flashback vision.
The next night he shows up
at the shelter at 2 am,
relapsed on heroin,
back with his old buddies,
knocking on the church door
claiming he’s Jesus.
12 February 2016
HOUSING THE MEN
isn’t the answer
if it’s putting them
in a box with a mattress
and a small tv. Isolation
and loneliness serves
filled only with noise,
and that microwave
on the counter? No
11 February 2016
GOING TO SEE MENCIUS
“What you don’t know is wrapping its arms around you.”
Yes, you can walk to 7-11.
He tries to walk from one hospital to the next one and gets as far as the church where he lays down on front of the cement pad beside the door where Serenity finds him when she comes in to fix breakfast. And what was high school like? “Hoards of people in high school opening doors, emptying out of buildings that never emptied. I would open the door and see these masses of faces. I had a yearbook then. This girl wanted me to buy the yearbook, which I thought was very strange. I don’t have it anymore but I carried it for years. I remember looking at it afterwards, all those pictures of kids and they all looked like 5th graders. What was a guy like me doing with a yearbook. It was so strange. It was the strangest thing.”
Serenity makes biscuits
and eight men sit around the table
eyes closed, tired already.
There’s the story
about the meatball.
Trust the meatball,
Svetlana Alexievitch says.
Trust the meatball.
Notes from the trainer in the notebook. Those first days of winter. Five of seven days are covered. The men will arrive by nine pm. All hands on deck. The shelter is a bandaid. Other things are explored while men are here. Out of the cold. Get them out of the cold. Get them into housing. Totes. These are the plastic containers. What they carry fits in the totes. Everything must fit in the totes. Keep their coats. Check their pockets into the totes. Each bed has a number. Cut off smoke breaks at 10 pm. Smoke breaks have been cut off at one church because it got out of hand. Each mattress has a number. Guys in college will bring their homework. What’s inside matches what’s outside. The church to follow has more experience. No bikes. No breakfast. I handle the sanctions—when rules get broken. Shelter is a safe place. Walk out and get a 3-day sanction. We’re not going to close the shelter because of you. De-escalation training. Lights go back on at 5:30.
Masha Gessen calls her the Memory Keeper. The New Yorker, 26 October 2015. Oral history stripped down…culture of banality…where we live…to create a new text…Svetlana Alexievitch.
“DON’T PUT YOURSELF NEXT TO THE MEATBALL”
The mother, the boy, the meatball.
Three pages of rant
on Russian Intelligentsia.
“I wanted to know how a woman feels.”
“Women tell things in more interesting ways.”
“They live with more feelings.”
“They observe themselves and their lives.”
“The measure of our time on earth.”
Central Lutheran, 8 January, 2016
Check all locked doors. Walk the building. Outside first, using the flashlight on the IPhone. Too many keys. Feeling institutional resentment. Waiting for the men. I’m not part of this part of the program. I can wait for the men. Where I start talking to myself. Right here. This is where the voices go off. Here comes somebody. Who is it?
Je ne sais quoi he says to me. That flair. I could go both ways on that one. But I didn’t know it.
Reading Mencius at the shelter: “Practice the great in yourself. Let the small and weak in yourself die.” Feeling it tonight, the small anyway. Writing down the great. The idea of it. Monitoring with T. Promise oatmeal in the morning. A gallon of it with raisins. Fill a baggie with walnuts. Fill another with dried cranberries. My partner tonight. Cowboy hat, blue jeans, torn at knee. Red underware. Red t-shirt underneath red and blue plaid shirt. Grey cotton vest.
“’The Way is like a great highway’, replied Mencius. ‘It’s easy to find. People just don’t bother to look. Go back to your home. Look for it there, and you’ll find teachers aplenty.’”
“If you don’t resent a parents’ fault when its serious, you’re treating parents like strangers.” Mencius. “But what the world calls a distinguished minister, the ancients called a plunderer of the people.”
OK, men. It’s morning. Good morning, lights coming on.
It’s just about oatmeal time. “Walnuts?” “Walnuts? I got no teeth man.”
David Hinton’s I Ching
“Inquiring at the Source
with Shaman-flower sticks,
where you live all origins inexhaustible
on and on. How could you ever go astray?
People from lands in turmoil will come
flocking to you, knowing that whatever waits
will meet with calamity.”
HERE IN THE HALLWAY
under the bad lights
in the basement
as the men sleep.
Now the day.
A man comes out,
Can’t we shut down
that bank of lights?
It don’t hurt to ask.
There’s another light
in my phone
and all these poems
with nothing but time
“Water is abyss and danger.
Earth yields and is devoted.”
Last night a shorter prayer. Amen.
DICK SPADY IS DEAD
Karen and I sit in the living room
watching the President deliver
the State of the Union address.
He’s the President and he’s pretty good.
I make milkshakes for us
remembering Dick Spady
who founded Dick’s Drive-In
where we grew up in Seattle.
Dick Spady is dead.
The man who gave so much,
more than burgers
to men on the streets.
His son, Jim says,
Flipping burgers and making shakes pays
$10 dollars an hour to start.
Merit raises. Employer-paid insurance.
Up to $8000 for child care,
or college tuition.
A 401-(k) program with employer match.
Dick Spady died today.
“Make decisions for the long run
if you can survive the short run.
Take care of your people.
Invest in your community.”
A telegraph operator for Union Pacific.
Navy, WWII. GI Bill.
Dick Spady died Sunday, January 10, 2016,
at the age of 92. He opened the original
Dick’s Drive-In, 28 January 1954,
Hamburgers cost 19 cents.
He gave a million dollars to the homeless.
6 January-3 February 2016
WEEKLY UPDATE MEETING AT THE EXTREME WINTER WEATHER SHELTER
Frank says he thought things were set up when he left town this weekend. He opens with this, I guess not. A dozen women in the program. More women now. Why? 27 people have been housed since September. A and M get housed today. A&M. Too many male monitors, not enough women monitors. Ernie thinks our shelter is spoiled. Minor stuff coming from the experienced church. The ones with the dedicated staff. There was an acc accident, though. Young man, new. Hit by a car. Couple from Florida. Older. She couldn’t see him, crossing. Banged him up pretty good. He wouldn’t go into the ambulance. Then he had stomach pains later. Treated and released. Sock exchange. Underware exchange—with the Christ group. Showers at our place working, settling down. They like the showers, don’t need one every night. Women’s. Same old story. Attentive, but shares too much. Big Mama? Tell me what you know. How hard she works as a guest. She’s going to get a house. So many appointments get in the way. 5 walk-ins. Too many. Out of money for monitors. Presbyterians really getting into it. They’re taking the men to camp next month. Our place. Glasses case found outside church. Full of drug paraphernalia. Purse stolen. Puts program at risk. Immunizations are up. J has his bike. He wants to get his meds without seeing a doctor. He worries about everybody else. It’s a team effort. He’s nice to women. He’s not so nice to men. LDS. Massive amounts of food. Social Security comes on 3d of the month. Leaving the Hot Spot is hard. Getting housed is hard. Too much, too fast—housing chronically homeless they can lose their community. Moving forward: You can’t leave town, Frank. We survived. We’ve heard there aren’t any problems until we leave. Two programs, funding changes. Trying to accommodate differences. Clean and sober model. Harm reduction model. We take people where they are. We work with relapse. When you’re ready, come back. Alarms, alarms. Burned popcorn. Yes. Sometimes burned popcorn sets off every alarm in the building. It happens in prisons, too.
4 times they helped me.
4 times I screwed up.
They should have
given up on me.
Arguing with self.
A full-blown conversation
with multiple characters
2 February 2016
Poet, Teacher, Therapist Joan Fiset delivers the Keynote address during a weekend "Conversation On Homelessness" at Central Lutheran Church, (ELCA), Yakima, Washington, 22-24 January 2016. Fiset's two books, Now the Day Is Over, and Namesake, are published by Blue Begonia Press.
“EVERY STROKE IS VOCALIZED”
Every stroke is vocalized
when you’re starting out
I’ve been a tabla player
Since I was 18
The drummer has to wait
He can’t start playing right away
Jesus was the best homeless minister
the world has ever seen
Jesus was a man of the road
He pulls a worn photo from his wallet
his tabla drums before him
dressed in white and brown sweater
talking about Ravi Shankar,
I had to give up my drums
when I lost my place.
I’m 59, I know,
I look young for my age.
The men must be accompanied
when they want to go for a smoke
and have to leave the church.
We’re in the basement
where the shelter is.
Because Cielita has lobbied
Church Council for showers for the men,
(she won), Why wouldn’t we approve that?
two men will take showers each night
until we determine how much hot water
we have, we’re talking about showers.
We prop a bag of ice melt by the door
to keep it from locking behind us.
Hank tells me how long his hair is
underneath his cap, shows it to me.
I noticed it last week, I say.
I follow Jesus and Crazy Horse, he says.
Jesus was a street minister.
Jesus was homeless.
I follow him. I’m Lakota
and follow Crazy Horse, too.
It’s my spirit. Look, it’s down to here.
If I cut it, where would I be?
Where was Samson after they cut his?
Jesus was the greatest homeless man
that ever lived.
Jesus was a man of the road.
Tomorrow I’ll get some shampoo
at the Dollar Store. Shampoo and conditioner.
For the men.
We talk about the Highline, The 2,
northern route across Montana
into the Dakotas, the men
on the picnic bench at Wolf Point,
frying tacos on the little grill
on the picnic bench, the quilt
we sent that came back.
We come and go
on the 2, he says,
We go back and forth.
You can talk about so many things
during the time it takes
to smoke a cigarette
outside a church at night
in freezing weather
with the door propped
with a big of ice melt
and even the rules of accompaniment
aren’t the rules of accompaniment
Jesus talks about—but even
those rules, put together
by a coalition to bring these men
in from the cold, help
make this talk
of Jesus and Crazy Horse possible.
21-28 January 2016
Living on a shoestring
Shopping at the Dollar Store
When I had four kids
living in the house
26 January 2016
The men come in tired from the street,
ready to sleep. One helps monitor. He’s good,
but can only do a couple of nights a week.
If he does three, he gets paid. But then
he doesn’t have the energy to get through
the day, and has to go sleep by the river.
The man from El Salvador named
after the angel asks, “Where can I eat this bag
of oranges? They’ll spoil. I try to share
all my food, but these oranges, I just can’t.”
The young man from here
puts the sheets warm from the drier
to his cheek, exclaims, “Oh my God.”
I don’t know Jesús.
He’s drinking a hot chocolate:
“Next week I get out of here.
To the other side of the mountains.
Close to Seattle. I can do it.
Treatment center. It’s either that
or 60 months. I can’t do 60 months.
I’ve already done 21 years.
I’m 53. Walking down his hall, man.
This hall is…freedom, man—
Freedom, you know. It’s beautiful.
“We were watching movies of San Quentin.
I told the guys. Big Dudes, man.
Big dudes. In the chow line
you’d say your prayers,
Your prayers would be real simple.
Help me get through this chow line.
22 December 2015
Vigil for the Homeless, Winter Solstice,
21 December, 2015
Vigil for the Homeless, Winter Solstice,
21 December, 2015
READING CONSOLATIONS, A BOOK ON WORDS BY DAVID WHYTE,
SITTING ON THE COUCH IN THE EXTREME WEATHER SHELTER PROGRAM
LOCATED IN THE BASEMENT OF THE LUTHERAN CHURCH
Stop at the word pilgrim where dependency
bows before strangers. Sometimes I’m the stranger
with the begging bowl, and sometimes
I’m the stranger opening the door.
What we’re given from men
coming in from the street
isn’t ours to say, it’s unknown,
night after night. It’s snowing tonight,
a wet snow, and wet socks,
and the men moving, like invitations
come from envelopes, sideway
surprises entering the room,
into my very own hands. A woman
sits beside me on the couch.
An electrical cord and my backpack
sits between us. I don’t even think
to ask who she is. A sheet has been thrown
over the couch. I hand her the book
open to the word pilgrim and say, Look at this.
4 January 2016
MENCIUS AT SUBARU
Meet my brother at Subaru shop by accident. Different problems. Mine, with 154,000 miles and a bad brake light, carrying two weeks of holiday grease from mountain driving. Mechanic friend of my brother’s tells me about the wax pen to apply on rubber molding so the doors will open. I listen to my brother for two hours. He’s been walking the underworld for 18 months and smack—joy hits him in the face. I read him one line from the book I’m carrying not counting on this conversation. Pain is the doorway to the here and now. In a book about words. David Whyte. 52 words in the book, like a deck of cards. Open it by chance, like tossing coins in the I Ching. And this thing with my telephone. It’s like a learning disability. I pull the car into the parking lot before driving to the shop. It takes me 27 minutes after getting the number to learn how to punch the numbers. No button maps any way to my brain. Names are skating on me. I can’t track first names from the greeting to the person. Almost 10 years younger than Jim Harrison, negotiating the days. The article in the L.A. Times. He goes to the studio every day—wants to be there when the bread comes fresh from the oven. The new poems coming out next week. His wife dies two days after the interview in the paper He says, “Somebody has to stay outside.” Somebody’s outside all right. What about tonight’s shelter? There won’t be time to get home before I have to be there.
Meanwhile, what’s up with my Subaru?
Mencius is the one who shows the emperor how to govern. “Your own success depends upon Heaven alone, but whatever you make and hand down—that will continue.”
Where can I eat my oranges?
He shows a small bag.
I try to share my food,
but these oranges,
I just can’t.
He puts the sheets
warm from the drier
to his cheek exclaiming,
Oh, my God.
She’s either off selling cars
or off with his best friend.
He says again,
I can’t do 60 months.
I’ve already done 21 years.
Walking down this hall, man.
I can’t tell you how beautiful this hall is.
Freedom, you know.
Isaiah is real simple.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light.
Those who lived in a land of deep darkness,
on them light is shined.
No need to go any further. No need.
I’m having a nicotine fit.
I can’t sleep.
Can I go out and have a smoke?
I’ll go with you.
Shelter rules for all of us.
How you doin?
I’m trying to get over this cold
Maybe you can sleep now.
Last night there were a couple of guys snoring
and tonight I got ear plugs.
My wife snores.
It comforts me.
That’s how I hear it
when I’m in there
sleeping with you guys,
breaths intermingling with snow.
A kind of comfort.
He shows up with his wife.
He says he’s come
from his brother’s.
He was keeping her
cashing her checks.
But he can’t be here with her.
You can’t be here, he says,
I’ll call the police.
You stay, I call the police.
I’m here, he says,
to see my wife.
Take her with you.
Her disability check goes too.
They showed up here at 5 this morning.
with nine plastic bags of stuff.
One man likes to keep his own pillow.
He carries it with him.
Think outside the box
the man at the Athletic Club says,
after talking about the money.
You’re not very outside the box
if you’re talking about money.
27 December 2015—28 January 2016
THINKING OF THE MEN IN THE EXTREME WEATHER SHELTER
READING MENCIUS IN THE EARLY MORNING LIVING ROOM
Days this winter being in the dark
reading Mencius, and this morning
I’m reading from Li Lou Book One.
It’s all about governing and government.
Mencius was dead 1500 years
before his words brought him back to life.
I say to myself. Go see Mencius.
Listen to Mencius
“If you’re faithful to yourself,
you cannot fail to inspire others.”
This is so good in the early morning
living room. I’m reading Mencius
from David Hinton’s The Four Chinese Classics,
settled and settling, in one’s hands.
Six am before light, before Karen wakes.
I underline in the book and transcribe
into the notebook, before looking at it
in type on the computer, completing
the journey from brush, stone and ink.
I don’t read to the men, but I’m waiting now
to read to Karen as she takes coffee,
before she begins working through the newspaper.
She comes to this sleepy and dreaming,
just as I can’t hold back any longer,
she enters the room. Karen, listen to this:
“If in serving your family, you can’t bring them joy
you’ll never inspire trust in your friends.”
That’s Mencius. Mencius says there’s a way
to be faithful to yourself. Isn’t that cool?
Karen says,“I've been dreaming.” “I know,” I say.
Here’s a cup of coffee, dark roasted
with caramel creamer and raw sugar.
Here’s the newspaper. Here’s Mencius.
4 January 2016
READING MENCIUS ON THE COUCH IN THE BASEMENT
HALLWAY WHERE THE MEN’S WINTER SHELTER IS LOCATED:
THE PROBLEM WITH READING MENCIUS
is that it’s in a big book, expensive object,
with the other Chinese classics,
and then, well, it’s Mencius—Who
does one tell? and, What does one do
when epiphanies begin? How to respond?
I have one friend whose eyes won’t roll.
The situation tonight:
This one man,
Called to be a moan of God, gotten himself
in a bit of a mess. I think it understand it, too.
He has some gifts, but his shadow!
His shadow is a work to behold..
Kept me up at nights, too,
brothers and sisters. Then, this, Mencius:
“To expect impossible achievements from a ruler—
that is called honoring him.” I know
he can do better. I’ve seen the better in good light.
One can’t look at his gifts alone
is what Mencius says. It won’t work.
“To open up his virtue and seal up his depravity—
that is called revering him.” The Great Darkness
must be allowed in the room. That’s what
I wanted to say to the man’s accusers
and superiors as well. These people
are the Jesus people. What to do
about all this trouble. Sleeping
on a couch in a hallway, the door across
from me says, Pre-School Room,
with another sign below it reading,
Enter through next door.
Look, I’m not through. “But to excuse him
as incapable of something—
that is called plundering him.”
Have you no compassion? I ask myself,
seeking my own council: Go see Mencius.
It didn’t begin with Mencius. It started
with the man who translated him, the translator
of the Chinese poets, David Hinton.
I became his friend reading the poems.
His Hunger Mountain become mine, you could say.
He had a way of talking about the poems, too.
And then he put The Four Classics in boards,
one big book: Tao Te Ching, Chuang Tzu, Analects—
and to here: Mencius. How I came to the line,
Don’t plunder the man. So I’m carrying it,
ready, with me. To the shelter,
to the shelter meeting. The book, the lines.
The lines written in the notebook,
thinking I have to say how Mencius
became my guide in the winter work,
in the extreme weather shelter for men,
into the basement of this church,
where I meet the men I’m sleeping with tonight.
The man who’s monitoring the men
sleeping on the floor. Black man
just out of treatment. We talk the Steps.
We talk the Big Book. A.A.
He’ll sleep first. I’ll stay up.
I want to look at that book though,
he says. Then he’ll get up, and I’ll sleep.
Getting the men through the night.
Mencius, I say. Mencius in the Big Book.
Heaven is dark with Mencius, the songs say.
Mencius says, “When you attend something and fail,
always turn back to yourself for the reason.”
“Look at this,” the black man says.
“When I get up, I want to read more.
That book, that’s a Bible.”
5 January 2016
Disturbing dreams, no clarity. T asks me for a ride to Mental Health. He and his fiancé both have 8 a.m. appointments. “Do you know where Front Street is?” T is 60. From Tacoma. Just out of Treatment. He has a phone. “I’ll be there. I love you.” He was a monitor with me last night. Serenity fixes scrambled eggs, sausage. Tortillas, salsa, Donuts, milk. Don’t make sandwiches today. Somebody dropped food off at the Depot. Frank called Serenity last night. Men quiet at breakfast. Seven men last night. Serenity sets up a movie. Italian Job. Men spread out in chairs. Grateful for the absence of talk, from sitting together too close at breakfast. Sit-down meals. Two new men last night. Serenity cooks more eggs for Gabe. More than he can eat. She teases him about it. The men laugh. It’s the movie. The woman in the helicopter flips off the felons. California gold. David Whyte works the word frontier in with borders and crossings. The van picks the men up at 7. The end of the movie’s not important. It fills some time. The van crosses them back into town carrying everything with them, and nothing more than can fit in their totes they leave locked in the church closet. Their totes, numbered, will be waiting for them when they return this evening, tired from walking streets all day.
6 January 2016
THE DAY AFTER
sleeping with the men at the Extreme Winter Weather Shelter is a day of adjustment. Because the power went out last night, I stop at Starbucks on the way home and get Karen a latte, extra hot, with a warm scone. I don’t know if the power’s back on. It is. Appreciative, and wanting to talk after being alone, I turn towards her words, nodding. OK. Altered space. But not for lack of sleep, either, or even interest. I’m present not present. I don’t hear a word.
7 January 2016
WITH THE MEN IN EXTREME WEATHER SHELTER
God wants me on the streets,
he said. I’ve been here six years now.
It’s a good ministry. Once
I had a wife and child.
A small business—construction,
God gave me a way
to help repair the losses.
It’s all about gratitude.
The box of raisins
added to the oatmeal,
the staple recipe,
an even gallon.
Alongside this, a package
of dried cranberries, raw sugar,
and a pound of walnuts.
Pointing to the walnuts,
I ain’t got no teeth, man.
My time with the Benedictines
from 17-21 was like boot camp for me.
Today I need to get some alcohol
and clean up. No, you can’t use wipes
on your body—they’re full of Lysol.
What you need living on the streets
is the sanitation alcohol provides.
I’m listening when I go in.
I can tell in a few minutes
whether to stay or be gone.
The bullshit detector
kicks in right away, but
it’s two-sided, this coin.
Bullshit in churches
mirrors the bullshit on the streets.
21 December 2015—11 January 2016
Living from sofa to sofa
the man didn’t know
he was without a home,
neither did the man
who owned the sofa.
16 December 2015
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.
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.
16-18 December 2015
YOU WON’T FEEL GOOD AT ALL
Maybe 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.
21 January 2016
EXTREME WINTER WEATHER SHELTER
Everything was seemingly unconnected. As is the case with synchronicities, I’m still making the connections.
How the men entered my life came through a series of refusals. We don’t have to go into them here. I’m still not aware of them all.
My wife wanted a pilgrimage to her Norwegian roots. What she got was a drive across US 2, the High Line through Montana to North Dakota. The lonesome highway. Lowest number. Two lane. Crosses on side of the road. River of my North Dakota childhood, and roots of itinerary, and itinerancy. Resurrection of a word. Itinerant reborn.
Things happening at the same time. Awareness seems to be off doing its own thing
In the middle of Montana, The 2 running through Wolf Point around lunch time, the Mothership pulls off towards the picnic table in the small park. Picnic table alongside a national highway. We’ll pull out the grill and make some tacos. I notice the men on a far table. Lakota. Dakota. The men come over. They talk to me about slight differences. The L and the D. How they connect to Yakima, Toppenish, Wapato. Karen comes from the Mothership bringing tortillas. Frying onions and hamburger in crisp October sunshine wafts into our nostrils, and the breeze picks up. It’s cold, even at noon. I spoon heaping amounts of meat into the tortillas wrapping them and handing them out to the men gathered round. They show me the shed where they sleep and Karen takes a few pictures of all of us together. The men say prayers for us in native Lakota and translate for us. “Drop us a line sometime,” the one says, after signing our log book.
Some time in here I begin to research Scandinavian literature on the Internet. I’m looking for a way into the literature. Novels and poetry outside of Ibsen. I put in a Google Search for the top ten novels in Scandinavian literature, things like that. I begin making a list. After I get 15 or so, I put in a request to my local library to procure some books through interlibrary loan.
Svetlana Alexievich wins the Nobel Prize for literature and I read about her in the New Yorker. I don’t know her books or a thing about her. She writes about people. “Art doesn’t know everything,” she says. Even more, her process of getting it down. What people say, how they say it. Getting it exact. She sacrifices for a recorder so she can get the inflections of a voice as well as the words. The starts and reversals in single sentences. The difficulties and breakthroughs of saying it. Of getting it right. I copy her statements from the magazine into my notebook. Testimony.
Earlier this fall at a literary party at Richard Hugo House in Seattle, Blue Begonia Press celebrates publication of ten books by women poets they’ve published over the last several years. Among them is Joan Fiset’s Namesake. Dan Peters has taken over as publisher and editor of the press my wife and I began in 1981. I can’t believe he’s published Joan’s book. Namesake is a bookend to Now the Day is Over, which I published in the mid-90s. In these two books, Joan’s story, combines with her father’s story and now her mother’s. Joan’s writing has a way of evoking the raw. She says of her own process, “I try and get out of my own way.” Her father, the brilliant and alcoholic pastor. Her mother, actress and artist, brilliant, with mental illness.
Born into the rural North Dakota Lutheran Church, Jesus walking is part of my heritage and ancestry.
I have found a spiritual home with a small group of people in the Lutheran Church in Yakima where I live. We gather around tables in the Church library once a month under the name of Church in Society. One of our group brings up the homeless, and the possibility of housing the homeless in our church basement. It’s a North Dakota image that surfaces in me, a cliché, part of the lizard brain that resides in me and must be dealt with daily. “That has about as much of a chance as a snowball in Hell.” I also know my friend. “Uh-oh, here it comes.”
The books begin to arrive through interlibrary loan. Old books from the past. Old and beat-up. Dried and cracking glue in the bindings. Yellowed pages, all that. The first two books are the difference makers. Harry Martinson’s The Road, and Knut Hamsun’s Hunger, translated by Robert Bly.
“If I only had a candle I could finish my article. There was nothing else to do, I would have to take my writing stuff downstairs, out untder the street lamp.” That’s Hamsun in Bly’s prose.
“We are all knights in that table of the sky….And I promise never to pretend to be anything.” That’s Martinson, in The Road.
And this is my first night in the Extreme Winter Weather Shelter in the basement of Central Lutheran Church, Yakima.
15 January 2016
SOLSTICE SNOW SHELTER
Joe shows up
with his feet
wrapped in tinfoil
You have a soft spot
in your heart for Joe?
until 9 so
we keep moving
most spend time
looking for snipe.
24 December 2015
Surprises in his own road
came in the basement
of the church
where he slept with the men
in a small room
breath and wonder mixed,
such a privilege
to be with these men
to make it
through the night
30 December 2015
LETTER TO HARRY MARTINSON
FROM THE HOMELESS SHELTER
IN THE BASEMENT OF A LUTHERAN CHURCH
CREATED BY EMMIGRANTS OUT WEST
“He who walks the roads should be unarmed.”
Harry Martinson, The Road, Nobel Laureate
Self-taught Swede I repeated jokes about you
before I knew your name. Orphan from the Parish
turned seaman, turned nomad, you spoke for tramps
becoming one, and becoming one, emerged singular,
and superior to the sanitized, those who stayed
home. Damning too, the efficient and organized.
I find you late in life by accident, trying to know
Scandinavian homeland through books. Your road
in tramp-time walks the poet’s way
half a century later. Other, outcast,
breaker and challenger of norms and stereotypes,
objective portrayer of the outsider,
tramp real and romantic. What is real,
stubbornness of the human spirit raised
to such heights, delighting where it touches
down, and more, touching what’s tender
and thin in human pretense. “In defiance
of his defiance he opened his mind
and let it be illuminated by his best thoughts
that he could remember, by all the best
of what he had seen and heard.”
Add the cost of defiance:
it takes twice as much out of you.
Your tramp is the poet on the way,
becoming true poet. Your poet,
the tramp on the way of the true road.
It is the poet who sees the back side
of the moon. The urge to witness,
the need to see, and walk and be.
Poet and tramp merge, becoming then,
this: “…like a clock which no longer
believes in its action.” A poet’s image
and the tramp’s reality. You knew,
and know, real, Harry Martinson.
Fear in everyone. What you see of fear
has been recorded, is true. And from
across time, I praise your time
with men you walked with. Fierce call.
“I have been sent to count the grasshoppers.”
“And I promise never to pretend to be somebody.”
“And to be perverse to perversity.”
Discovering truth in silence. Tramping
as a way of life. Embarrassment to America,
then and now, without contrition.
The incurably ill the only ones
embracing openly. Excess exposing
excess, loving humility. Unarmed.
Speaking, wallowing in truth, the big all.
In deep admiration,
20-30 December 2015
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