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(IV) Notes on Loving a Homeless Man

IV

The hesitation that you hear in my voice is just that I’m used to alarms going off when I’m near doorways. I’m used to police approaching a crowd, and somehow always asking me what I’m doing there before they ask anyone else. I’m used to them asking me to leave, and leaving others to their business.

I’m just more comfortable standing outside. I feel more like things happen the way they are supposed to out here. Did you know that you have to be inside to die of a stray bullet, or in a house fire, or of a heart attack while you’re laying in your bed next to a woman who calls your heart her heart, and doesn’t sleep as well when you’re not there? No one ever burns to death in a house fire under a freeway overpass.

I’ve learned that jail is more likely than electrocution. I don’t often find myself living by natural trees, and lightning only strikes telephone poles in movies with time-traveling cars. I’ve learned that thunderstorms are unavoidable and aren’t all that bad.

I’ve learned that thunder is only dangerous when it’s the echo of a gunshot.

I’ve learned that stray bullets always hit who they were aimed at. I’ve learned that stray bullets are aimed at “everyone.” I’ve learned that they will only call them stray bullets if they kill children. They only get called stray bullets when they are found lodged in or near someone who has a name… Someone who will be missed.

If a bullet tumbles through a concrete forest — if it hits a man most humans couldn’t say wasn’t a tree square in the chest — does his life make a sound as it falls off his tongue?

I’ve learned that the only deaths here are murders, and overdoses, and hypothermia, and starvation. The only deaths here are ‘of natural causes.

I want so badly to die of natural causes. And so I’m standing outside. I don’t want you to miss me, but I want to be worth missing. If I never create space in your life to fit myself in, I will never create a void in your life when I leave.

I will leave.

I don’t want to go. But I don’t know what staying feels like. And so I’m standing outside. And wondering if alarms will go off when I walk through the door, or police will tell me to 'move along, if I know what's good for me,' or if you might make me the type of man who can die in his sleep, who could have an early death — who could die unnaturally — the type of man who could give a name to a stray bullet — the type of man who was expected to live.

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(III) … Notes on Loving a Homeless Man

III

It will be pulling teeth with salad tongs.

It will be digging a grave with a Gerber baby spoon.

It will be showing up to an unmarked door, on an unmarked building, on an unmarked street, with windows that seem to be perpetually dark — there is a car parked out front that has 3 flat tires and a missing side-view mirror — and you’re knocking — and knocking — and knocking — and never turning to hide your face as the people walking past look at you strangely, or maybe sadly, or maybe lofting some other kind of pity at you as they walk past en route to more inhabitable property.

You will feel ill-suited for the tasks dripping from your hands.

It will be convincing me that we can each halve this and each still hold the whole of us together. It will be convincing me that a home is something I can have at all. It will be showing me that my hands can carry things and not break them or break myself or break yourself. That not everything in the world is sharp edged, and that if you expect everything to cut you, you either get great at bleeding or great at dropping things, and neither of those are good qualities in a husband or a carpenter.

I don’t quite remember the last time homes were something, anything, other than otherthings to be dreamt of while you wonder about whether morning will keep the streak alive, or decide that it’s already got the Guiness for “most consistent thing in the universe not called to noon and evening, and hey whatever, bro, I was here first," and call out sick today. I’m still not sure where dreams and prayers and cautionary tales intersect and diverge, or how to tell which is which when they all take turns playing the carrot on the end of a stick, a maybe hanging just out of reach, just intriguing enough to lunge for; It’s not that I ever thought I would catch it, but that I’ve seen so many beautiful things in the life I’ve spent chasing it — I didn’t have a reason to stop and just be hungry.

I’ve become accustomed to falling in love with the “almost” of it all. To the point that actually having it sounds like heartbreak. When you wake up every morning for a decade telling yourself that the “point of it all is the journey, and not the destination,” you won’t know what to do when it comes time to stop moving, so you’ll keep walking — through every room of the house — and if you’re not careful — if you don’t stop me — I will walk right back out of the front door, because destiny doesn’t happen to men like me.

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Notes on Loving a Homeless Man (II)

II

I have held in rains longer than I can remember,
unwilling, maybe, to water a field that had
so consistently failed
to bear fruit, you can only till gravel
as if it were soil so long before
you have to accept that a single stem
rosed from concrete can never bloom the same
faith as it would, climbing from a bush to
greet the sun in a garden.

I never knew why, or sometimes what, I was holding back, but whatever it was felt like all I had left, so I protected it like it was my only child.

until you smiled and reminded me that I am allowed to feel something other than lost.

I haven’t known how to get home since they told me
I could no longer sleep under the ashes of my last one,
and
until your face dimpled
I had no clue where to break ground
building a new one —
until your face dimpled,
I was not sure that I could plant
or grow, but now all I do
is water the ground below you
and pray you always petal.

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(I) Notes on Loving a Homeless Man

You will not always know why it is that I feel compelled to tip-jar my tithing into hats and buckets and licked-clean soup cans, the sharp edge of which has clearly kissed a hungry mouth intent on reducing food waste, and why I feel torn open by the mouths that have the scars consummated with that union. There is just something in his outstretched hands, and the gravel that echoes through his praise that reminds me of the nights I have spent turning anything I could find as holy as I could hold it and making it into a makeshift pew and altar.

I will not know how to ignore the ringing in my ears, the sound that the look of a man waiting on commuters to leave his living room makes — the unsure look of someone who can’t quite tell where it is that he feels the least alone, nor a clue as to how to seek it out; a man to whom feelings of being welcomed, and wanted, and anything more than unworthy might as well be the things that come with lottery winnings.

I would buy a lottery ticket, too.

I have bought lottery tickets, too. They always seemed to have odds-to-win as good as anything else I have tried.

There is something about looking into empty eyes, and empty hands held up to random humans as though beatifying them will turn them into saints… something about someone asking for whatever it is that they hope might keep them warm that night that will always buckle my knees.

I do not know how to stand over these people.

I will want to prostrate, or at least kneel so our tears start out the same distance from heaven and the same distance from earth when we free each other, I will cry with them. I will cry for them. I will want to hold them like a brother I thought had died years ago, overjoyed to see him again and broken that I can’t house him, if I can barely house myself.

I will look at you and not know where you are asking me to lead you. These numbers on this house don’t add up to a number I know how to count towards.

I will sleep on the back porch, so the cops do not think I am a tresspasser. I will thank you for the blanket. I will not know why you are angry — why you are crying — why you invited me here.

I love you, but I cannot stay here. I have burned down every house I have ever slept in.

Quote Iconi am a pen
with a bullet in the
chamber

i am a black boy
burning a book
about history

i am a black boy
painting new colors
on a flag —

it didn’t match
my shoes, red’s and whites
only remind me bloods and angels
I don’t know how to pray to, and I
don’t believe in that
purple predecessor.

i am a spectrum of sunkissed
skintones, calloused and weathered
and stress-tested

those of us who survive the firing squad
are fileted, and
skinned, and worn

they say, the first man who wears
a nigger’s skin, inherits his
rhythm. and the blues he spent so long
running away from will lay
by his headstone.

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Bridge to Somewhere (freewrite 7.13.14)

even with hands built
to carry peace
over troubled waters,
i am only steel and
concrete; only submerged pillars
breaching, desperately reaching
toward heaven so
painfully accustomed to coming up short —
misdirected suspended roads,
i am a bridge to nowhere unless
I have your shores
to land on and name
destiny.

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freewrite 7.11.14

I love you, but maybe
it’s that I love the way
you love me,
baby, maybe
the way you reached up for me like
I was suspended in the sky, held the back
of my neck like I was made of clouds, and
kissed my face like your mouth
was a mut, mixed from mustard seeds and
the kinds of mountains people climb
to separate themselves from mere mortals.
you took a chisel to your chest,
split your sternum,
spread yourself open, and
told me I wouldn’t have to
use cardboard signs and street corners
to mine blessings
anymore, the way you
looked in my eyes
birthed me whole
from homeless.

Quote Iconi am a pen,
with a bullet in the chamber
i am a black boy
reading a book
about God.

i am a black boy
writing a book
about all of the times I’ve failed.

i am a sinner
standing on the corner
looking to the sky,
trying to carve a dream
from the clouds

i would give any of my things
to have anything
worth crying that i
cannot hold.
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Fight or Flight freewrite 7.1.14

the song
the guillotine sings sounds like
a wife returning to her husband
after a military tour. as she collides
with the hard hug of a chopping block,
she will give you
goosebumps big enough that
they seem they might sprout plume
and down — and you are only given
a choice to spread your wings, or
spread the bed:
accept today will be the first day
you have lived not followed by a tomorrow,
or that you’d rather stop spending
so much of your time looking
towards earth.