Seven out of 10 Americans are one
paycheck away from being homeless.
~ Pras Michel
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
During my childhood and youth, I saw no evidences
of homelessness in Iowa City. I knew that there were hobos riding the rails,
though by the time I would have begun to understand that phenomenon, it was no
longer as prevalent as it had been. I have no recollection of homelessness in
Washington, D.C. during my four years as a student at American University
(1957-61). However, when I went to New York City to participate in a debate
tournament, I had an experience that had such a profound impact on me that I
wrote a poem about it almost four decades later.
Feet on the Subway
His coat was ragged
as his face. His worn hat
and threadbare gloves
could not protect him
from the icy cold racing
through the wind tunnels
of New York City.
Probably he panhandled
coins to ride the subway.
My eyes were drawn
from his drawn face,
his recessed eyes,
to the skin of his ankles
stretched tight and red,
his puffy feet, pressed
into loafers, the newspaper
stuffing visible through
large holes in the soles.
I shivered less from the cold
than the coldness
with which I stared.
I reached my station,
rose and left the subway car.
I took his feet with me.
Look, the swollen ankles,
the newspaper-stuffed shoes
are still stored
~ Wilda Morris
(Volume 1, 2005), p. 7. This poem was also published in Backstreet Quarterly,
and in Empty Shoes: An Anthology of Poems
on the Hungry and the Homeless, Selected and Edited by Patrick T. Randolph
(Elkhorn, Wisconsin: Popcorn Press, 2009). Empty Shoes is available for
purchase at http://www.popcornpress.com/product/empty-shoes/.
Homeless children and youth are particularly
vulnerable. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that
each year 5,000 homeless youth are buried in unmarked graves because they are
unidentified or their bodies are unclaimed (see http://bphc.hrsa.gov/archive/policiesregulations/policies/pal200110.html.
Some homeless youth are homeless with one or more of their parents. Some are
runaways, perhaps escaping abusive situations at home. Others are “throwaways,”
youth who have been forced from their homes as a result of disputes with
parents or guardians.
Some people are chronically homeless. For others,
homelessness resulting from a medical crisis, domestic abuse or other
circumstance, is temporary. Either way, it is a difficult and dangerous
situation in which to live. It is tragic and ironic that there is so much
homelessness in one of the wealthiest nations on earth.
Donna Pucciani has written a number of poems about
homelessness. Her experiences as a volunteer at a homeless shelter, gives her
sensitivity to the humanity and the needs of those who are homeless.
Shelter, Peace Lutheran Church
Five a.m. Site full.
Body to body on the rug.
Steam slicks rubber mattresses
stinking of disinfectant.
Light streams in, sighs and groans
subside into waking.
Three hundred pounds of sagging flesh,
he grasps the sheet around his waist,
His knees swell like ripe plums.
“Ma’am, can you help me dress? I can’t bend.”
The socks, white cotton,
have leathered into brown,
still stiff from yesterday’s streets.
“Sorry, not too clean,” the rough whisper.
Later, sitting outside like Buddha,
he coughs chested roars,
bloody and spent,
that rend the reddening sky,
spits his shattered lungs
into the flower beds.
Fresh workers brew coffee,
“No air conditioning?”
His fleshy, piglike face is earthly matter,
like hers, but she can see his obsese body,
white-clad in a seamless robe,
handing out bread on a mountain,
blessing fish with fat, purpled hands.
He sweats holy water,
sending stench like incense
rising above a church basement
carpeted in saints.
~ Donna Pucciani
of Line (2004) pp. 29-30.
Donna Pucciani, a Chicago-based writer, has
published poetry on four continents in such diverse journals as Poetry Salzburg, Shi Chao Poetry, Journal of the American Medical Association, Gradiva and The Christian Century. Her work has been translated into
Italian, Chinese, Japanese and German. In addition to five Pushcart nominations,
she has won awards from the Illinois Arts Council, The National Federation of
State Poetry Societies and Poetry on the Lake. Her sixth and most recent
collection of poems is A Light Dusting of
November Challenge – A Poem about Homelessness
The Challenge for November is to write
a poem about homelessness. It can be about homelessness somewhere in the U.S. or
anywhere else in the world. Most of the best poems on the subject reflect
personal experience of someone who is or has been homeless, or who has had some
contact with homeless people. Be creative. Be respectful of those who are
The deadline is November 15.
Poems submitted after the November 15 deadline will not be considered. There is
no charge to enter, so there are no monetary rewards; however winners are
published on this blog. Please don’t stray too far from “family-friendly”
language. No simultaneous submissions, please. You will know by the end of the
month whether or not your poem will be published on this blog. Your poem may be
free or formal verse. If you use a form, please specify the form when you
submit. Decision of the judge or judges is final.
on the Internet (including Facebook and other on-line social networks) are not
eligible. If your poem has been published in a
print periodical, you may submit it if you retain copyright, but please include
Copyright on each poem is retained by
How to Submit Your Poem:
Send one poem only to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @
sign for “at” and a . for “dot”) . Include a brief bio which can be printed
with your poem, if you are a winner this month.
Submission of a poem gives permission
for the poem to be posted on the blog if it is a winner, so be sure that you
put your name (exactly as you would like it to appear if you do win) at the end
of the poem. Poems may be pasted into an email or sent as an attachment. Please do not indent the poem or center
it on the page. It helps if you submit the poem in the format used on the blog
(Title and poem left-justified; title in bold (not all in capital letters);
your name at the bottom of the poem). Also, please do not use spaces instead of
commas in the middle of lines. I have no problem with poets using that
technique; I sometimes do it myself. However I have difficulty getting the blog
to accept and maintain extra spaces.
Poems shorter than 40 lines are
generally preferred. Also, if lines are too long, they don’t fit in the blog
format and have to be split, so you might be wise to use shorter lines.
© Wilda Morris