With, perhaps, a few brief intervals
spent in rented rooms
when it was still possible
to afford a rented room,
Bobby spent the whole latter third
of his sixty odd years
living in shelters or existing on the street
He went about
with butt cleavage hanging out
of his always falling down rope belted pants
and plastic bags dripping from hooks of hands
carrying everything that overflowed
his pockets and shirt full of crumpled napkins,
rattling papers, cans, bottles
and who only knows
what he found precious.
In the winter he huddled
the huggybear of winter away
until the shelter opened
in Boylston Street Station
talking to the walls
or sometimes managed to stay quiet
enough to sit in S. Francis Day Program.
He drank, of course,
but it was hard to imagine
denying him that small solace
to the cold and aloneness
that surrounded his long days.
He was one of the last
of the original Pine Street bunch.
Five years before
he’d been resuscitated
off the shelter floor,
but this Sunday
when he came garrulous at the front desk
reeking of the listerine he’d been drinking
and then collapsed in the stairwell
by the door to housing he never used
on the way into the yellow lobby
all the chest compression
and all the breaths and oxygen
could not reclaim him to the world
that had so long ago abandoned him.
When I went over to look
I couldn’t even recognize
that grey face with wisps of beard
and jutting jaw
I’d seen so often before.
I saw him upside down
because he was lying
facing the other way,
I had to ask who it was.
They were still working on him
when they finally wheeled him out,
but I crossed myself and whispered,
“Oh, Bobby, you’re dead.”
Will he tell them at the pearly gates
“You motherless maggots, motherless maggots,”
if they accidentally touch him?
Or will heaven finally hold enough space
so that he won’t have to yell “faggot”
to fend off the caress of angel wings?
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. His work appears weekly in Oddball Magazine.