This poem first appeared in The Centennial Review, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 2.
FIVE PEOPLE (HOMELESS)
- Sally, Inauguration Eve
This dirt gone?—white. I am
and Everyone says He’ll do the job
Give us hope but I was
wearing wool A-line skirts with
the very clouds above for shirts
last time, when my opinion
meant something. Click click
my tiny Italians on polished
boardroom floors Gentlemen,
I said I fail to see I
did fail to imagine this cardboard
throwing its brown cast on me.
- This Red Scarf
White clothes mean sticks in the arm
but if you stay clean sheets
one night or two. On the lake bank there were
white trees! I had ice skates.
They had no leaves so the light came through.
The Polish girls wore scarves tied under their chins.
I was no Polack but see, I tie this scarf
tight and keep my head down
watching for ice. You fall here
no boys laugh or help you up.
But if they stick you
they help you up real nice.
I’m used to being in charge
so this will be about you.
I want you to know I appreciate the aluminum cans
so neatly stacked beside the trash can.
I see you see me take them, see you hurrying
to meet my six o’clock pickup daily.
I admire your scheduling abilities:
kitchen scraps to the chickens before work,
the soft globs of their droppings to the compost heap
before dark; the garden weeded Saturday mornings,
fruit plucked and distributed to neighbors in the afternoon.
I would have hired you in the old days—
kept an eye on you, as they say—
I keep you a secret now,
for the cans.
What’s left of this planet is my home.
Birds are not afraid of me, curled in this bush,
unless I jerk my legs, dreaming
I fly with them over the roofs
and across the highways.
We eat the seeds that drop
and peck at the not-ripe pears,
scattering when the farmer comes
to nail his straw-filled savior to a post.
- When I Was One of the People
All these things I shall tell you are true.
When I was a warrior my skin flowed yellow, red and green
like the sashes of the old ones.
When I was a warrior I devoured the night
and spit stars at the immaculate moon.
When I was a warrior my courage rode in front of me,
a blind slave stolen from an enemy camp.
When I was a warrior the wind and I embraced with great joy
and we brought forth spring, summer, fall
and the weaver child, winter.
When I was a warrior I kept sadness behind my eyes, mute as light.
When I was a warrior I could swell until the earth was inside me,
feverish and bloody,
and I could sweat until the earth was healed
and I could bleed until the earth was whole.
I am the owl and the darkness now.
I am the hawk and the light.
I am the crack in the clouds now.
I am the wind in the night.