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Saturday, 13 June 2009

The People


File:Homeless - American Flag.jpg

The people of the street possess a weird freedom
From the fading vestiges of the American Dream,
That straitjacket worn much as the suit of armor
Of the knight who, glimpsing his reflection, pitched
Headfirst into the moat and was not again seen,
Dragged under by the weight of his own protection
From what in the end he would never even know.
Self knowledge being the last property to come,
The first to go. Another cold night, body pain, slow
Progress between Vine and Safeway, paused at
The corner hailed by Dave the Irishman, now shorn
Of his beloved and badly abused canine companion
Jezebel, sequestered in the pound
For the nth time a month ago, ne'er to return
As Dave could not pay the fee this time round.
Dave is banned on Shattuck. Clustered up
With the tall haunted Tom Waits lookalike guy
And a Latin dude with a handheld video player,
Carrying a formidable knife. Dave proffered
A Foster's in a paper bag, the invisibilizing
Container which shields crime from police eyes.
The night deepened. Some drunken high school
Kids mocked us from the bus stop, falling over.
Unconcerned, Dave cartwheeled round the corner.
A couple of gangsters sidled past casting
Meaningful glances at the video player
And the Latin dude's hand moved to the pocket
With the knife. At the stoplight a well dressed
Couple stepping carefully around us, compressing
The distance between their four hundred
Dollar Chez Panisse dinner and their parked
Ride to as few tiny cautious steps as possible,
Not saying a word, stiff with body armament,
And then traffic flowed with the changing of the light.

File:Homeless in LA.jpg

Homeless man: photo by Colin Gregory Palmer, 2005
Affordable housing: photo by Chris Sansenbach, 2005


Tom Raworth said...

...a life in brown paper....


Zephirine said...

It is a curious fact that many well-off people seem to think poverty is catching... they step aside from it as you would avoid someone copiously sneezing on the bus.

Tom, your 'Shattuck' poems sometimes remind me of Don McCullin's photographs of 1970s England:

TC/BTP said...


Don McCullin's Spitalfields Originals would fit right into the environment of this poem, scrunched in a defensive fetal curl on a pallet in a shop doorway, or, if marginally more fortunate, on a bit of tarp under a bush. Though Don's outsiders are generally older. Here on these hard streets one now moves among the rejected and ejected of all ages, all races. The Great Equalizer: simply being Left Out. For them, as Tom says, if life is to be found at all, it must be eked out drop by drop from within that neutralizing brown paper container.

Annie said...

Often people don't want to let any perceived relative misfortune get too close. Whether it touches off guilt, awkwardness, fear of being asked to give or do something about it, having something to lose putting one at an unfamiliar, fleeting disadvantage vs. those with nothing to lose, or just not wanting to find any kind of commonality that might induce the dreaded fate-tempting, taboo realization that it could happen to them, too. Better or safer to just keep it at the distance of "other."

Dale said...

Tom, thanks for this. The "fading vestiges" return as psychotic patterns among the still-not-entirely knocked out. I imagine the hunt will be on soon for scapegoats. Thanks for keeping your ear to the ground--and your voice insightful and brilliant as ever.

TC/BTP said...

Dale--Get you about the return. No need for Nimrod, the scapegoat is already vulnerable and exposed, dwelling, after a fashion, just beyond our social frontiers, much as Isaiah had it. "Surely he hath borne our Griefs and carried our Sorrows; yet did we esteem him stricken, smitten of GOD and afflicted." Though few of The People are in fact so well groomed as Holman Hunt's sad looking Best-of-Show
The Scapegoat

Zeph and Annie have the aversion thing right surely. As the population numbers of the "other" (lower) worlds swell visibly and daily, the tension's palpable; a strange caste-distancing process is bred of the evident anxiety of imaginal reversal--fear lest "they" become "us," and thus vice versa. I'll Be Your Mirror. The world pictured in The People is one into which it proves all too easy to stumble and fall, and who will be able to tell us and them apart, when it comes Judgment Day.

But if not now, when. And after that, what...

There are certain songs that inveigle their way into the ancient cranium when nothing much else is there (this is not uncommon) which always remind me to try to remember to forget. E.g. this Lowell George/Martin Kibbee Little Feat classic, covered by some other old soldiers here, it's becoming common knowledge it's so very

Easy to Slip

Elmo St. Rose said...

Dear Tom,
In our land autonomy trumps
beneficence. Many of the homeless
are mentally ill. Locally there are
a few residential group homes for
people like these who are willing
to go or are court ordered. They
are free to wander though. The
advocacy groups for the mentally ill
insist on that. So if one of them walks
into oncoming traffic on the
interstate perhaps it's freedom
to blame. Now if the poets introduced youg doctors to the ecstacy
of beauty and truth in a more
common fashion they might be better
at healing these unfortunates.
It's not exactly there but fortune
go you and I but there is always
some truth in that in that anyone
can become or be made to become
Elmo St. Rose