Wednesday, May 8, 2019

How the World was Made 5

Two more prose poems
from the manuscript
How the World was Made.

The first prose poem (Once there was Spirit...
comes from a time when I helped feed the homeless in center city Philadelphia, in the Eighties. 

This was around the time the Reagan Administration tossed many people who suffered from mental illness out of state institutions and onto the street. This was also the beginning of the current era where the poor, those living on the margins of the economy, became demonized.

The myth that spread like wild-fire during that time was that those on welfare were reaping in huge profits from the state. "Welfare Queens" was the term. This conscious misrepresentation was originally spread by Republicans, but it eventually was used by the neoliberal Democrats. 

This way of looking at the world is now forty years old, but I feel as if this lack of compassion, this fierce vengeful rage against those who are different, this myopic vision of society as consisting only of individuals competing against each other, is beginning to crumble.

Once there was Spirit...


For a year of Tuesday nights, I took coffee and sandwiches made by Catholic school kids – peanut butter and jelly, baloney and mustard – down back alleys, into the subways around center city Philadelphia, hunting for the homeless. 

I worked alongside a group of nuns who ran a shelter for mentally ill homeless women; and, oddly enough, a Common Pleas Court judge who made her rounds with long, red-lacquered fingernails, heavy mascara, clacking bracelets, dangly earrings, and the clip-clop of her high heels echoing off dark city walls. I swear she knew everyone on the street by name.


Around one of the South Broad Street stations near city hall, I’d usually run into a six-foot, skinny guy, black plastic bags tied around his feet. He usually had several people in tow (Why they followed him around, I never found out). His eyes were constantly moving, without focus. Every time he saw me, he’d shout: “You know me! You know me!” The first time it happened, I went along with it: “Sure, I know you!” Later that night, when I surfaced onto Broad Street, I told the Judge about him.

She knew him – no surprise there – said his name was John, used to be a volunteer, just like me, and had been badly beaten on one of his rounds near the library. He recovered physically, but something deep inside him had unraveled, drifted away (her words). 


Once there was spirit, inseparable from the body, woven into every cell, spread across each cell wall, the pancreas, the lungs, all the intricate hand bones, the tongue, the heart. “You know me?” That man’s spirit had risen, prematurely, up, past the night clouds, past the stars, in a futile search for a safe hiding place.

After a year, I quit. I feared ending up like John: spirit gone. It can happen whether you’re lost on the street or not. Everywhere I go I carry a bag full of change – for anyone on the street who asks. I’ve seen the people who hurry past the bodies lying in doorways, and I know their spirits have become untethered, too; fleeing the earth, desperately following the spirits of those who just asked them for change; up, up, across the stars, hungry – ravenous – for a safe place to hide.

(Previously published in Blazevox)


This second prose-poem is from here in Santa Fe. I used to live on a street that was a pathway for night people (mostly those suffering from opioid addiction) between Railyard Park and the trees and brush along the mostly dry Santa Fe river, where they could sleep, hide. 

Like the demonization of the poor, there has been, with the "war on drugs," the demonization of those addicted to opioids. The solution for the last forty years has been incarceration. What kind of society punishes those that are already clearly suffering? 

Like the vengeful attitude toward the poor and the marginalized, this archaic attitude toward addiction is also beginning to crumble.

More Ghosts

Junkies are ghosts moving down the street while I sleep. Sometimes they leave things: a wadded-up Burger King wrapper wedged into a wall crack, a smiley face made of cigarette butts in the gutter. Once, a syringe inside an empty plastic water bottle.

Everything is rising, they say in my dream. Everything is rising; green wheels, blue wheels, red wheels; whirling pinpoints of desire, rising. When I hear them, I think: is it really only about survival – is that all? They say: My brain is red, the aperture of hunger. I devoured the moon once. I will rise up and devour it again. Right now, some of them are eating Fritos, one by one by one, in the dry wash at the end of the street.

The clothes of these ghosts are scattered here and there, stuffed into plastic bags, hidden in crevices of rock – to ground them, to keep them from flying up into the sky. They say: There is no body. All is spirit, flying up. There is no body.

What is shame? There’s a white cross on a hill overlooking this town. They say, I won’t do it again, and a shriveled eye sails up, up, into the sky. They say, I promise I won’t do it again, and a lone tooth rises like a tiny balloon, into the blue. Their skin becomes transparent; their stomach dissolves; their heart yearns to be pure spirit, a holy spirit. Please don’t make me do it again.

(Previously published in Anti-Heroin Chic)


There is more and more evidence, from neurobiological research, that shows addiction is a direct result of early trauma. More on this can be found in the writings of Gabor Maté. An insightful interview can be found here:

There are plenty of interviews with Maté
on Youtube. The one below is pretty good. Start it at 5:50, to cut right to the chase. 

  Other prose-poems from the manuscript can be found here: