Someone had seen a drawing of a swastika he left on the table and people were getting worried, as if a swastika had any relevance in their daily homeless American lives. They pointed fingers at the small man who always wore long scraggly hair, dark sunglasses, a peace shirt, and a knit red sweater. Maybe Bob Dylan neglected in abstractions for thirty years. Cheech and chong, his therapist said.

I went to find him, interested in how his jumbled words would explain his jumbled drawings, and also embarking on an investigation of the things that make people afraid. He sat calmly in a sun-illumined chair and told me nicely to come in.

I asked him if he liked to draw. “Of course,” he said. “I plan on doing some drawing later today.” And he opened his drawer to reveal a pile of index cards all filled with the same collection of symbols, swastika included. “Can you tell me about your drawings?” I asked. The Babysitter’s Club taught me that’s what you should say when a child proudly presents you with a creation you can’t decipher.

“It’s the ten commandments,” he said. I asked him to explain each symbol to me. He pointed at the first, a stick-table with arrows drawn around it, and acted like he was reading words on the symbol: “Hail Mary full of grace the lord is my shepherd I shall not want you shall have no other gods before me amazing grace how sweet the sound.”

When he had gone through all ten of his symbols in mixed words from scripture, songs, and catachisms, he paused and looked at me. “Looks like you got an earring in your nose. It doesn’t seem very apropos.”

Unexpected words from a such seemingly free-flowing man. First surprising that he considered it not apropos and second that he used the word apropos, something I never before found in regular conversation but was glad I now had.

“You like that one? Put it in your dictionary,” and with that he lifted his hands to mimic playing a violin and started humming amazing grace.

“Amazing grace?” I asked.

“I sing for my supper. It’s the ten commandments. “

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They sat welldressed and clustered, walled in by a Borders bookshelf, I gazing in at the poet speaking into mic from the side. Beside me sat a disgruntled man clearly not present because of the poetry but willing to give it a chance. He ate a reeses fastbreak and giggled during pauses in her words, discovering some kind of secret humor in the professional mask this woman wore as she read pages from her chapbooks which she had marked earlier in preparation for people to hear.

I hardly heard her over the sound of the thick man in purple suitcoat whose white-haired-head bobbed as each poem reached an end in attempts to convince the room he understood and approved its message. The poet interrupted herself mid-poem to acknowledge the entrance of those who belonged in the circle of people she had come to entitle “poetry,” speaking abstractly of her wonderful acquaintances in attendance.

Earlier that day at the homeless shelter, my coworker started strumming the blues on his guitar. A woman stood and sang in sultry impromptu voice:

well
one summer night i was walking
i was walking down the road
and well
if you asked which way i was walking
i couldn’t tell you yes or no

And her passion-sound was poetry to the homeless inhabitants of the room, everyone bobbing their heads to the senseless words composed while they watched expectant, somehow thick with meaning.

When the woman sat down, they turned to me, asked me to read a poem of mine. After watching her and understanding what life was, none of my practiced planned poetry survived on pages.

No. I watch from the side, wondering why poetry is segregation and classification in the places and ways it sounds.

poems

taste of content

My last apple eaten was an after-school snack in 11th grade. There was the breathlessness of dancing, flinging my body repeatedly over and across the shaggy orange carpet of my parent’s basement and the subsequent grabbing of the apple I had left waiting for me on the surface of their wooden entertainment center. I ate and my throat swelled its disapproval. The threat of strangling from the inside scared me away from apples for the next six years.

My ultra-recent revelation: I can eat apple meat as long as I skip the peel. Today I plucked apples from rows of trees illuminated by the autumn day and sunk my teeth into the taste of juicy content that’s been contained inside a high school memory for too long. It devoured me.

green dreams

I followed the rain drops along the uniquely dusk-colored handrail up to the porch elevated enough to overlook the street and entered into the greenery haven: a porch perfected with complementary walls of vines and twisting leaves caressing its boundaries. I looked around and breathed, a sneak gratefulness for walking in the steps of the people who lived here and pretending this space was mine—the shocks of flower, the bamboo chair, the rain dripping over the green netting and cooling the day.

Then I knocked because I came there to knock and waited. The old man with the look of utterness opened the door and smiled his confused old man smile.

I handed him his lunch with a pressing desire to ensure that someone would enjoy this day from the green space where I stood. “Do you ever eat your lunch out here on the porch?” I asked.

“Well I was sitting out on the porch but I came inside because it started raining.”

“Wouldn’t it be so nice to sit out here with the rain and eat your lunch?” I felt like a somewhat sales person with no clear profit goal.

His eyes got surprisingly big. “You know,” he spoke in wonderment, “All my life I’ve been eating my lunch in the kitchen. You’ve really given me something to think about. Maybe I’ll do that someday.”

And when I left, I’m sure the old man walked slowly back to his kitchen and left the porch begging to be sat on empty, and I walked back to a car hoping that words carry potential for change.