People tell me everything. They come to me with what they can’t tell anyone else.
They suddenly remember their dreams and detail their long list of grievances.
Their words moan one by one along the eroded pavement of the shelter alley
where how many thousands upon thousands of padding, shuffling, running feet
have made their way to and from their deaths, destructions and disappointments
and ends of beginnings that awaited them in America’s stingy system for the poor:
this poor house you can be barred from, this moral descendant of the 18th century
work house, this free meal and army surplus cot for the night for those who work
to pay taxes for there is no recourse from the shelter but the street itself and
there’s only dignity and pride with which to pay, pay, pay over and over again and
again in the interminable lines and the production line serving and rows of cots that
you might even call your own. And what awaits those plodding forms that make
their way stumbling and hobbling with canes and crutches up that gap between
the buildings? Where do they all come from? Where do they all go afterall, after all?
You hear it in whispers, in slants of speech thrown at you outside the dark windows
and in the little park with the sun trying to break through and be relaxed for once
as brick walls surround the lobbies and loom over the reception desk and stairwells.
Just stand there and hear it all, take it all in, and keep it close, bear it, bare it, you see
this is what we do, this is our job and we are all here together at the bottom of the
pecking order that’s the obverse of dominance and is total submission, the whole
massive enterprise of modern economic endeavor rests the full weight of its social machine
heels right on our necks. There’s no reason for it as it costs ever so much more than
a rented room and food stamps and it’s a public health disaster that concentrates
the poor, disabled and addicted together to be more easily preyed upon. It is crime,
a tragedy of neglect and lost persons, a whip in the class structure to maintain the pace
of avaricious competition for jobs, for status, for power and everything everybody wants
had better want, had better keep buying it or it’ll all run down like an old rusting clock
except we’re all here together and the system is now electric and I hear what you’re saying
there is sin, there is evil so say on friend, don’t stop now, I won’t tell, this how we spend our time
this how we remember, the bodies found against walls, the unheeded requests, the beaten and
bruised heads, the broken limbs, the threats, the silences, the waiting for what never happened
was too far away, couldn’t be found, or just wasn’t there, was never there in the first place at all.
James Van Looy has been a fixture in Boston’s poetry venues since the 1970s. He is a member of Cosmic Spelunker Theater and has run poetry workshops for Boston area homeless people at Pine Street Inn and St. Francis House since 1992. Van Looy leads the Labyrinth Creative Movement Workshop, which his Labyrinth titled poems are based on. His work appears weekly in Oddball Magazine.