On Martin Luther King Day
where do the unfortunate stay?
I pass them on my work commute
en route to help foster independence with some elder
who broke a hip and could care less
that I have a degree in Psychology
as long as I can work a dustpan and make a sandwich.
They pass a joint, I pass my judgment.
Huddled masses gather under tree branches,
a moth-munched cotton sheet hanging from the limbs
to protect their sensitive appendages
against the sleet and snow singlehandedly.
It’s Colorado winter, they must be tripping
if they think that makeshift tent
would even protect them from a post-shower branch drip.
As I bike past, I hear someone in the distance go:
“The library is closed, all the homeless must go home!”
Tramps pushed out of their temporary camps;
droves of ponchos and knit caps that reek of hooch and bud
stomp out the courtyard. Make their way toward Civic Park
to take the bus to town.
Scowls like Jack O’Lanterns
cut deep in their liplines to frighten children
out with their parents on their grown up rounds.
Where do they expect them to go? Isn’t today about social justice?
About reverie for one of the most compassionate reverends
to ever grace us with his presence?
Must be hard for them to celebrate
when they can’t even hang at the library to research
one of their greatest advocates.
When they can’t even trust us.
When they can’t even ride the bus
more than once
without proper fare.
Curmudgeons on a budget, they can only ride one time
and then it’s “end of the line!”
They’re not even going anywhere
just hiding from the snow
and little college coeds dance right by them
hands full of hot cocoa and iPhones
pretending not to notice
that one of the bums
just spit his dead tooth on the floor.
Do they exist solely to subsist?
To show us how it’s fought.
Show us how it’s really done.
Remind us that technology is great
we can stay up late
posting pictures of battered gays and casualties of war
on our micro-blogs we so proudly prune
to lure strangers to us to adore our typed words.
Where we discuss how the influence of Eastern philosophy,
the teachings of Rumi,
have turned savages into sympathizers
but we still have so much work to do.
We love to pontificate the causes of poverty
and obesity and all that’s in between
with other middle class nobodies.
Nobodies who never done nothing but think about life
without ever setting foot in it.
But this right here is in your backyard. Write this down, this is art.
Real life militia built from grit and shit, programmed to endure
using shopping center garden stones to sharpen
their sordid swords. Veterans of change
imploring each other to start a war
to prove which soldier’s still got enough wine and piss
to truly survive the apocalypse.
Bundled in found down-feather jackets
their feeding is erratic and sleeping sporadic.
Each lone soldier resigned to a life that is highly nomadic.
But how awfully romantic.
How do they not freeze?
Here I am, double tights over my knees
buckling below chattering teeth.
Sweaters got the thickest sleeves
and still I produce no body heat.
My shivers beg for sympathy.
There they stand,
three cuddling grown men under a shared afghan
swapping stories and Marlboro shorts,
rabble-rousers perfecting their retorts
and relaying the day’s report
about which restaurants waste what
and which street corner is up
careful never to reveal how much booze they still got.
When they settle down for their wine-infused sleep
of what life do they dream?
They must dream of endless possibility.
They are the only folks I know
not already drowning in everything they need.
Mornings must be bittersweet
when they scurry to their feet
to meet their primal needs
knowing if all else fails
they will soon have the solace of a drunkards’ sleep
where in dreams they can be just as comfortable as me.
But do they even want that?
I mean, do they even dream?
Once they meet their needs
there is truly nothing left to seek.
Every reader knows
the best stories are about big dreams
and overcoming some damned defeat
like King said in his famous speech.
Maybe they only dream when they sleep.
Perhaps safely arriving to their drunkards den at dusk is their greatest feat
where they can rest their feet and attempt to just be.
Maybe they dream of nothing in life that looks like me.
Maybe it is only King who had a dream.
Maybe they want to be left alone
in their tents with their struggles and their whisky.
Maybe it is only those who know nothing of life
that spend their time concocting elaborate schemes
in an effort to realize their dreams.
Maybe only the weak waste their time with dreams.