“Sacred Heart” Art by Jos Sances, ceramic tile
“Sacred Heart” Art by Jos Sances, ceramic tile



by Joan Clair
A friend tells me she no longer has much or as much sympathy and compassion for the poor as she once had. For herself? In her 70s, her income hovers under $1,000 monthly with more than half of that going for rent. In another year or so her income may be less. She no longer has as much caring, compassion for herself?
Someone I know tells me he hates his disability. And the disabilities of others? Does he hate them too? If he hates his own disability, how can he not hate the disabilities of others?
Then there are the people who want to reduce government services for the poor and disabled — not being poor and disabled themselves — yet. When the government serves the poor and disabled, this is not the Christ, in which they believe, giving gifts. Government service is evidently an alien menace.
Hatred and Self Hatred. Hatred of others. Hatred of self.
Many, many years ago, two young men who did not like me gave me a ride home in their car. They were “brothers,” and I was an excluded “alien sister.”
As I got into the car, I saw through them like an X-ray, their “spiritual bone structure.” It was shining within them, not excluding any other being.
The ride went smoothly, although they never saw my inner being and continued to exclude my presence.
Hatred of self. Hatred of others.
The inner being, perceived, believed, shines though the lies and false beliefs — every now and then.

A New Friend

by Ana Adlerstein
Author’s note: This short piece is about an interaction that I had with a beautiful homeless woman in Berkeley.
Shatara sat on the doorstep of the old white Victorian across the street and waved as I walked by. Although I couldn’t make out her face, as dark as the night around us, I saw a sleeve of bright orange reach towards the sky, so I stopped. More orange with the same vibrancy was woven into a turban above a gap in which I could almost make out her face. As I crossed the street, the line separating our realities, I racked my brain for something that I could offer to this goddess of the night.
“You know,” she said, “if you hum that old German umm bop bop umm bop bop you can make just about any song. I was just sitting here singing to myself when you walked by.”
Now I could see her beautiful African features, voluptuous lips, her eyes shaped like a combination of a proud Siamese cat and a Spanish olive.
“I hope I didn’t interrupt,” I offered, and she heaved a laugh, heavy with a decency and delicacy, from the depths of her stomach.
“No, not at all. Do you live here?” her mouth angled the question towards my standing figure, but her eyes went further, rolling up to take shelter in their sockets.
I sat down next to her, eye to eye. As her aura and aroma reached me I regretted being grateful that I wasn’t lying when I answered that no, I live in a garage down the street, and that I’d offer her a place to stay but honestly there isn’t any room.
“Oh now don’t you worry about that, I’m just happy with a place to sit, all I need’s a stoop, and my friends who live here won’t be back for a while.” She hadn’t met the owners of the house above her, I could be sure, but I didn’t for an instant doubt that they were her friends.

Mixing Tracks

Fiction by Jan Steckel
Publisher: Gertrude Press, Portland, Oregon
Review by Mary Meriam
Jan Steckel’s first chapbook, The Underwater Hospital, is poetry. Her second chapbook, Mixing Tracks, is exquisite prose. Both books concern the extreme distress caused by catastrophe. In The Underwater Hospital, the hospital, which should be healing patients, is flooded.
In Mixing Tracks, an airplane, which should be transporting passengers, is crashed in the wilderness. Mixing Tracks is the story of the two survivors, told in a prose so deep and strong that it verges on poetry:
I had been thrown from the crash in a shower of screaming metal, but except for a few shallow cuts, the slashing fragments inexplicably neglected my flesh. Mindless and sightless I had run from that killing ground, fleeing what I might see, and worse, those terrible sounds. I ran till I tripped and fell on the forest floor, where I lay sobbing in the silence of frightened birds.
This paragraph is the poetic heart of the story. The “terrible sounds” are part of the sounds mixing throughout the story. The narrator was traveling with his rock band; the other members do not survive; and the voices and music of the band haunt the narrator. The silent birds are also part of the sound mix, as Steckel seamlessly mixes natural and man-made sounds and silences. Although the narrator escaped the crash with a few cuts, terrible and beautiful sounds, from the past and present, clash in the narrator’s mind with such force that we feel his mind crashing.
In this wilderness, this landscape of catastrophe, there is a stream of water, mixing with the stream of sounds. Steckel returns to the stream leitmotif again and again. Her poetry flows in these lines. Like the mandolin that survives the crash unharmed, the stream goes on and on, close to us, with its life and music.
The other survivor, a young street hustler, seems to represent death, or at least the tempting seduction of death. Indeed, when night falls, and the narrator is spooked by wild howls from the wilderness, the boy seduces the narrator.
Surviving the plane crash, and finding each other in this wilderness, is not the end of the story. But I won’t be a spoiler, except to say that the story leaves me pondering how catastrophe and survival and life mix, and if this wilderness is a dream or a nightmare or death.
Every word of the story seems to carry the weight of an insight about surviving “screaming metal” and “killing ground.” Such insights are only visible (or audible or bearable) with an equal or stronger understanding of life. The strength and beauty of Steckel’s prose is life-affirming and celebratory. In the face of the terrible distress of catastrophe, when nothing is in its proper place, Steckel’s work is a remarkable achievement.
Mixing Tracks won the 2008 Gertrude Press Fiction Chapbook Award for LGBT writers. Steckel, as she describes herself, is a “Bidyke writer and disabled former pediatrician [who] writes about poetry, fiction, sexuality, doctoring, poverty…”

With the Sun

by Joan Clair

With the sun comes

creatures in all forms

and shadows.

Why do some

want to get rid of

the shadows of the poor?

With the sun comes

creatures in all forms

and shelters.

Why do some

want to get rid of

the shelters of the poor?

Camouflaged by Stigma

by Sue Ellen Pector

Wistfulness shed,

despair’s bitter grasp

rules your countenance now.

Planted on the sidewalk, dazed,

you lean on your wrist,

watch boots, sneakers

and trousers race by.

Camouflaged by stigma

you hold your cup.

Inspired by “Faux Street Revisited” by Christine Hanlon in Street Spirit

Soft Beard, Lonesome Pain

by Sue Ellen Pector

Bedraggled, hungry, t-shirted man,

paper cup extended to well fed,

pastel clad yuppies.

Bright shoe soles and fluffy sleeping bag

don’t hide the defeat in your gaze.

Soft beard, lonesome pain.

We look at you, our fears crop up;

we look away for comfort, fast.

Inspired by “Richie” by Tammy Grubbs in Street Spirit

Butterfly Prayers

by Claire J. Baker

Butterflies on flowers

press their wings together

like Praying Hands we see

in windows of bargain shops

which barter for eternity.

We’re not as wise as time,

yet know that any moment

could trigger urgent hours

when we’ll need a prayer from

God or butterflies on flowers.

Music to Grandfather’s Ears

by George Wynn

It is raining

when the old man

walks down the

steps of the BART Station

stopping to listen

to violin music

Mesmerized he

drops coins in blonde

violinist’s case

declaring, “I support art!”

Huddled he falls

asleep against a wall.

Finishing her performance

just as he wakes she

places a bunch of ones

in his callused hand

Patting her hand he says,

“You’re so kind

just like my granddaughter.

You really really get it.”

She smiles, “It’s a shame

so many don’t.”

Reduced by America

by Sue Ellen Pector

Hunkered on brick,

beneath old coat

face and gender invisible,

brown fingers grip the cup you hold out.

Your sign announces hunger,

pleads for food, money, clothing.

Who among us will look past our pain

to see you?

Inspired by a photo by Robert L. Terrell in Street Spirit