We all feel it. At the meeting to plan to protest the evacuation of hundreds of Boston’s homeless
Citizen’s because of the derelict bridge from Long Island the push was to get the new mayor to
declare an emergency. Over a week after people were forced with no notice from their things,
their clothes, their, pictures, whatever personal dear things they had have not been returned.
I don’t know where to start. I’m in a flashback and re-member when they opened up the shelter
on Long Island and late into the night we would make van runs from Pine Street Inn to the
dorms which were being opened up floor by floor, bottom to top in the old Public Health Hosp.
that was once used to house those quarantined for things like TB. As this happened there was
an organization wide process where time after time the staff made the point that shelters could
only be a temporary measure because the solution to homelessness was housing especially as
it actually costs much money to staff and run shelters. Even then each time I drove over the
bridge I wondered if some van or city bus would take down that aging span and load of people
into Dorchester Bay. Later I saw the handwriting on the shelter wall and knew that the shelter
system was helplessly headed to abuse and corruption. Another disintegrating structure. So I
quit and found myself a few years later on the ferry through the Harbor Islands and on the
return trip from Spectacle Island we went right past the poor dilapidated straining span. It was
right at the time when the revelations about the troops being treated at Walter Reed being
“abandoned in squalor” at a motel hotel across from the hospital became a new scandal about
the government data on troop suicides which the Pentagon buried just like the we try to bury
the state of the Long Island bridge I thought until it collapses under a bus load of people.
Instead because of another bridge in the Midwest which did collapse and send vehicles down
Into a river they, finally, years later came to inspect Long Island Bridge and found it to be
unsafe for the same reasons as the bridge in Minnesota. Another rusting hulk waiting to fall.
We all feel it just like we feel the tension as we wait for the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri
to charge or not charge, to indict or not indict the police officer there who shot an 18 year old
African American multiple times and killed him. The president comes out urging non-violence
there even as he has secretly signed a document that will allow the generals to continue
indefinitely the war in Afghanistan whose extension has previously twice been given end dates.
Tens of billions for new wars abroad but we can’t afford to fix the bridges which keep all us
Americans from falling into the abyss. We all feel it. War abroad. War at home. Yes, Declare an
Emergency. Emergency in Ferguson. Emergency on the streets of Boston. Emergency all over
the world. There’s the emergency that started when market solutions became the only way
to deal with the homeless as public housing was cut and public institutions were closed and
the market had free reign with people’s homes (which created the emergency that “emergency”
shelters were supposed to ameliorate). There’s the emergency of a wave of police shootings
of unarmed people of color as the whole country waits to see what that grand jury will do in
Ferguson. There’s emergency when rain falls on 6 feet of snow in Buffalo NY in November.
There’s emergency as the ground water in California sinks deeper every year and the scientists
predict a decades long drought there due to polar climate change. There’s emergency as record
numbers of species face extinction. The elites have been in full emergency mode since the turn
of the 21st century. They know. They feel something and are willing to do anything to keep that
feeling and everything else just as it is. And I feel it too, of course, perhaps more than anyone
I know what it means, this feeling: this global touch, this worldly caress, this quick flare of
universal feeling, this emergency we simultaneously sense, this 6th great extinction of numb-
ness, this cosmic communication, this All One Living Thing, this meeting in this space where
I once attended the Social Action Ministries, this America that has become a mystery, this
accusation I saw the beginning of so long ago now become daily murder at home and abroad.
This flashback. This emergency. This constant state of emergency. Declare the Emergency.
I felt the empty space open beneath me, all around me. Something broke deep, dark under.
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. Today marks his one year anniversary as a poet columnist for Oddball Magazine.