Society's Weeds, Poetry from the Homeless Experience and Beyond
Poems Written by a Formerly Homeless Person
Why would anyone write poetry about being homeless?
Homelessness changed the way I saw the world forever. Some of those changes were sad; I learned to fear people I never had before, like policemen, well-dressed teenagers, men in business suits, and all men who got too close. Some few of those changes were hopeful; I lost a lot of my fear of ragged people and strangers for one.
I learned so many counter-intuitive yet profoundly right things that they changed my way of thinking far beyond my fears all the way into my dreams and hopes. They also changed my art, gave it more direction and compassion, more focus and roots. Deprivation and abuse seem like they'd provide little wholesome fertilizer for roots of any kind. It's true that they don't.
There was more than deprivation and abuse in my time unwanted by the prevailing culture; there was an awakening of a more gentle awareness. There came a realization that while the stunted and damaged among us lash out in pain, most people do not. Most people still have a wealth of kindness inside, even after they've been damaged, deprived, beaten, abused, and reviled. They still refuse to accept hatred and brutality as the norm. Some still even give what they haven't got enough of themselves to someone they think needs it more.
Let me share some of the things I learned from behind the oblique glass of poetry that keeps my heart a little safer from the pain of memory.
We are the weed children,
grown from promising seeds of life,
knocked through the cracks
in the cement of society.
Damaged, we still burst and thrust up
into whatever light we can reach.
The rock around us
soaked in toxins meant to destroy us
pushes against us
but we push back against the poisons
and the hardness around us
slowly, but not patiently.
Sickly, but strong in our own way,
many of us outlast the bitterness
dumped upon us.
We may grow twisted and pale,
but we sometimes soften the earth around us
the better to grow fresh seeds
where kindness had once been paved over.
Sometimes even our broken bodies nourish the ground
just enough to give them purchase.
Our only hope is that
slowly, but not patiently
we'll make the concrete over kindness crumble
not because we broke it
with the steady pushing of our lives
but because the foundation beneath
and decided to lift up the seeds of life
until weeds no longer grow,
not because they do not sprout,
but because they have become part of the garden.
by Kylyssa Shay
I sat with three other homeless women around a coffee can with a burning Sterno can inside it in a deserted old shed when each of them started sharing things she missed from living in a home. It seems they all valued locking doors a great deal and missed them more than any comfort. I was too shy to add my piece, but I desperately agreed.
Behind Four Locking Doors
Sleeping sweat-tacky and rough
on red-brown shredded cypress
near over-dried shaped evergreens,
panthers blending seamlessly
with house cats,
house cats blending seamlessly with panthers.
Raked by the claws of panther-men,
bitten by their teeth,
I could only fantasize a single, formless lock.
It could have been rusted steel,
or a scraped, white-painted brass-toned aluminum knob.
I couldn't even picture it in my mind,
but I yearned for it.
Now painted red steel
keeps people out of the hall,
but just the people who don't belong there.
embellished with a green and brown leaf
and the cut-out number 203
makes sure of that two keys in.
Across the red-brown wood grain vinyl flooring
and over the tan multi-toned carpeting,
down the six foot wide hallway
and to the right,
the colorless door number three
bolts only from the inside.
So long as the first two hold
the third won't be tested
with only safe people behind it.
The fourth door is thin, white and light
it only holds towels.
It locks from the inside, too,
but it's one of those brass-toned
paper-thin aluminum knobs you can open with a penny,
and locks with a concave-centered button in the middle.
It only saves embarrassment
and keeps cats away from the candle
but only when it's lit.
My, how these locks are so fine!
by Kylyssa Shay
People without homes are still people; homes without people are just buildings.
When you're lost on the street
one locking door
is the difference between rich and poor.
When you've nothing to eat
one piece of bread
is the difference between hungry and fed.
That’s the difference on the street,
the difference between a pillow and concrete.
When reporting a crime gets a laugh in the face
a living address
is the difference between harassment and justice.
Sleeping two days in a safe place
can feel like home to the homeless.
That's the difference on the street,
a small difference so sweet.
by Kylyssa Shay
A home is just a thing you own or think you do. You can lose everything you own or think you do in the blink of an eye.
© 2015 Kylyssa Shay