The suffering of others . . .

homeless

On Thanksgiving Day we took a post-gorging walk along the Miami River from the Brickell Bridge to Second Avenue. Where are the homeless, I’d been wondering these weeks back in Florida, picturing them cozily ensconced by the State in one-room occupancy hotels. But here they were, lying on benches along the river, blankets pulled over their heads, shutting out that thankless day.

Which brought back poet Philip Schultz’ poem in the Times that day. For a brief period in the ‘70s, he worked in the Department of Social Services, in the basement with the closed cases—that “dank museum of misfortune”. “This year, after the country was divided by some,” he writes, “between the makers and the takers, that place of great longing and need came back to me.”

These Curious Specimens

Upstairs,

when someone

waiting in line for,

say, bus fare,

begins weeping

someone else begins laughing,

when someone hauls off

and hits someone,

someone else steps back,

as if struck,

when someone begins eating,

say, a pork chop, someone else licks his chops,

dreaming of banquets,

when someone preparing himself

to be assessed

loses all hope,

someone else (perhaps

a social worker, a bureaucrat)

Capitalizes his thoughts.

IT’S YOUR RESPONSIBILITY!

TO PICK UP

YOUR FOOD STAMPS!

IF YOU TELL US TODAY

THAT YOU HAVE AN EMERGENCY!

WE MUST INTERVIEW YOU TODAY

ABOUT YOUR EMERGENCY

OR YOU COULD LOSE

YOUR PUBLIC ASSISTANCE!

MEDICAL ASSISTANCE!

RENT ALLOWANCE!

BUS FARE!

CHILD AND SPOUSAL SUPPORT!

Upstairs,

everyone is dependent

on everyone else,

and therefore,

desperately,

obviously,

inescapably

despises everyone else.

Loitering upstairs,

these curious specimens,

asleep on their feet,

staring into barred windows,

drinking out of bags

the elixir of nothingness—

might one ask:

who they are?

Their tortured argot,

aborted attempts

to determine what

is owed them by fate?

Angst-ridden,

befuddled,

each a decapitated fugue,

a broken contract,

an inventory of neglect,

an invisible witness,

a peculiar hiccup,

an out of sync factory

of relentless complaint,

in which we

are collaborators,

attempting,

however dubiously,

to define

and explain

how

and maybe why

they should be classified

verified,

terminated

and further vilified.

Upstairs, it’s 18-century England, where farming

out the poor meant lumping the blind, crippled,

insane, epileptic, deaf and dumb in almshouses

with criminals because The History of the Poor Laws

was designed to discourage mendacity, wherein

anyone giving alms to beggars was put in jail.

In other words,

little has changed—

there still being

no distinction

between tolerating

the suffering

of others

and causing it.

 

4 responses »

  1. Did you give them any money or take them any left overs?

    Reply
  2. Invisibility

    I was like you.
    I had a home.
    I had a family,
    And a car.

    I was like you.
    I had a job.
    I had a dog,
    And took vacations.

    I was like you.
    I was warm.
    My belly full.
    My clothes firsthand.

    I am like you.
    I’ve lost touch.
    I am discarded.
    My heart aches.

    I am like you.
    I drift away.
    Unoccupied,
    My mind clouds.

    I am like you.
    I am alone.
    No one knows me.
    No one sees me.

    Reply
  3. With the economic depression this country is in many of us are just hanging on. My son has not been able to work for 3 years, my daughter lost her home and her job, because of the economic down turn. They both had to move in with me, along with their pets. I have a home paid for and just like in the 20’s families are helping each other.. Like many others there is nothing left for the homeless, we are trying to survive ourselves. The wealthy in Hollywood could help, sports icons and politicians have $ and the welfare system is helpful but overwhelmed. My Charity must begin at home. I am on Social Security supplemented a little with savings. Hard Times are here. We are not homeless Thank God.

    Reply

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