A homeless man in Berkeley finds a place to rest on one of the few remaining public benches. Tom Lowe photo


Alliteration for a Dark Night

by Claire J. Baker

We are bound to be
bound together,
bonding in beauty
and beatitude,
believing in
a better bed than
this brief bench.

Observation at V.A. Clinic (Martinez, CA)

by Claire J. Baker

I stroll the tidy lawnlike grounds
engaged in careful observations:
remember war is mostly grounded in
fear & greed, those lowly stations.
Many patients carry a cane,
others all but driven insane.
I see it as a major goal —
with loss of limb to hone the soul.

Massive Inequities

by George Wynn

With more foreclosures
than in Great Depression
with no solution to unbearable
homeless lives and the
massive redistribution of wealth
diminishing collective mental health
with a President who plays it safe
at every decisive moment for change
keeps the generals and
Wall Street happy
there’s going to be more and more
homeless children and huddled masses


by Claire J. Baker

Take this to your comfort,
homeless friends:
the night too is homeless —
suspended over dawn & day
using its energy to accept
whatever the stars & moon
give away.

Debt Deal Crisis

Haiku by Arnold Passman

Debt deal crisis solves
Population explosion
Problem — old, poor — die
Haiku by Arnold Passman
Multinauseals have
smashed the state, in case you
have not noticed it.


by Mary Rudge

They scream
in my night dream
falling to their death
out the window
or perish in flames.
Their names?
“They were just immigrants”—
just those Jewish and Italian girls
from the ghetto. And poor Irish.
Immigrants. Not really U.S., us.
you know.
Where can you get to
from the ghetto?
You think college, on that pay?
A cottage, someday
for fruit tree and roses
and chickens and children,
a yard for play?
Fresh milk every day, a cow?
They would die anyhow,
lint in their lungs from the cloth,
breathing dust in the locked room,
old building mold,
brittle bones from bending to sew
in the factory all those hours a day,
making shirtwaists, stitch, stitch,
go blind, have cancer, cough, TB,
they were going to die

World of the Tenderloin

by George Wynn

around noon and the brown-robed
and gray-haired Franciscan Friar
stands by the corner of St. Boniface
shaking hands and welcoming
people of the neighborhood
like Mr. Rogers with a smile
at the end of Golden Gate Avenue
a cop writes out a ticket for an old
man jaywalking who pleads, “It
was yellow going on red,” to no avail
and continues walking up to St.
Anthony’s shaking his head
and cursing under his breath
to join the masses waiting
for a meal and he will be fed


The Race

by George Wynn

You see the same thing
in all their eyes before
they strike: How do we
make it through the day?
It becomes clear more
and more people are
dining on discarded
food in food courts
and fast food places
People attack the food
before security guards
race to escort them out
What a pity to witness
a divided city with the
have nots growing in
unprecedented numbers

Gutter Punks

by Joy Bright McCorkle

The gutter punks are trolling Pacific Garden Mall;
like damaged biplanes in mid-flight fearing a stall.
Eventually they fall into the system of care;
Shrinks or courts will catch them when life’s too hard to bear.
Like crows of ancient fables they chatter all their waking hours;
veracious little beings wilting like hardy flowers.
They rage, they rant, they chatter all to no avail;
stoned eyes scanning life, believing they’ll prevail.
None of them admitting they’re living on the edge of hell.
One third of these homeless children “aged out” of foster care;
No skills, no strong values; life’s lessons a hidden snare.
Pot, speed, and heroin are very common fare.
Being clean and sober are near impossible feats;
Like lilies of the alley these children are blooming on our streets.


by George Wynn

The last time I saw
the barefoot lady with
swollen feet and scarred face
she said life had lost all meaning
“It’s either survival or despair
or death on the street
People stare at me
as if I were a creature
Once it was different
I could tell you stories”
But she never did
The obituary said she
once sat for a famous
photographer in Europe

Venomous Reptile

by Cassandra Dallett

Sunrise finds me grimy
but lucid.
I swallow infection,
all shit under the freeway.
Papa’s alcohol
and mine,
delicious going down
burns coming up.
Rotten oil leaks
from my pores
detox hurts.
I think of her rooms
spotless and cozy.
She brought meals to bed.
Denied me nothing,
a lizard I slithered


by George Wynn

Nothing is new to her
on the street and
she is not afraid
Every year is a
difficult one for the
60-year-old lady
with pretty eyes
She’s never stayed
at a shelter
when it rains she smiles
as if it comforts her
Eight o’clock sharp
she arranges her blankets
for the streetcar line night
and meditates as
if she were on
a little retreat
and what virtue
there is in her silence

Dental Problems Among the Poor

by Maureen Hartmann

A number of people,
who come to the Sunday
breakfast in People’s Park
and the Men’s Shelter on Center,
ask for soft bread
because their teeth bother them.
I suggested to one woman
that she get dental care
through Berkeley Primary Care,
that they would help her get
insurance if she didn’t have any.
She said she didn’t have an ID.
She apparently has fallen
through the cracks,
or at least thinks she has.

Traps of the Consumer Dream

by Zainab Mohamed

How many times have we fell for your traps
Fell for this “Consumer Dream”
The utter words of contentment ….
we are not your mouse to chase
we are not your cat to chase either!
So why at the dawn of the day you wake
to see if your propaganda has worked
and brain-washed the old white man
sitting at a lone trailer in the rag
filled towns of Virginia
You have used My people My dreams
My life My hope My horizon
Yet I pay my tax dollars to whom!?
Ask yourself “why am I doing this?”
Why is she willing to have her voice
heard though her life is in the balance
You will tell me that by publishing
this I have a risen danger to my family,
That right now my life is in my hands
Like the globe of earth that fits
perfectly in the fist of a newborn baby.
Yet I shake my head…
A cold blanket of fog is left to
wrap us in your evil!
And an itch runs up your back…
As I raise my hand to the sky
“My life was never in my hands…
but in my LORD’s” — Rahma Mahdi

People Who See Through Walls

by Carol Denney

my cell was empty
down the hall I could hear a laugh track
from the cell with the tv
I heard the police technician say
don’t touch the tv
the women in that cell
had to have the tv on for days
everything it was doing and playing
and singing and saying
all day all night for four days
the same commercials
the same laugh track
in jail
I heard them sing
44 cable twelve
44 cable twelve
44 cable twelve
when I met them
in the custody van
on the way to court
on Tuesday after the fireworks
I knew their voices
we introduced ourselves and then
I said 44 cable twelve
and we laughed and laughed
and the men in the van said
you must be very dangerous women
and we laughed and we sang
44 cable twelve

A Girl Is Born In Amerika

by Adam Itkoff

A girl is born in Amerika
Will live in Amerika
Die in Amerika
Become Amerika
The same Amerika that took her mother
Now the air outside is cold
She cries
Her tiny limbs flail like she were falling
But quiver with delight as the sun creeps forward
And finds her skin for the very first time
Another child of Amerika
Our lost empire
Gut hollowed with a plastic spoon
Feigning the divine
As if God speaks English
The dog with three legs
Chases its tail
Around and around
And around
Might be funny
If it weren’t so sad
Flashes a sandpaper tongue and tired lips
Searching eyes
And me’s and mine’s
A face so long that it drags all across the floor
Moves to wipe its chin
Rest its weathered face
Parade its crooked mouth
In Amerika the chemical sky burns forever
Drips orange and green and blue
Garbage heaps like endless ant mounts
Grow high into the sky
And sting deep into the earth
A smile is nothing but teeth in Amerika
The ego lays soft and swollen and alone
Waiting to radiate and float away
Amerika we sing
The same damn song
Until our throats burn
The words mean less
And less
And finally
There are no more words
So we cry
But find no solace in despair
Revolution is a whisper in the trees
Beneath the soft beating of her heart
A girl is born in Amerika
With that first ray from the melting sun
She already knows
That love will be all that remains
After the rest finally washes away
A girl is born in Amerika
She sees its yellow mouth
Waxing in disguise
Sees its fear
Its sad eyes
That hide behind
A girl is born in Amerika
She feels something growing in her stomach
Laughs right into its gnarled face
Knows that’s all that’s left to do
She doesn’t know yet
The name of the juggernaut
The sound of friction
The atrophy
That is Amerika
But she will soon
In Amerika
The words mean less
And less
And finally
There are no more words

Not Shown in the Painting

by Claire J. Baker

When the street man
bowed his head,
lint like snowflakes
fell from his lashes,
the hole in his soles
whimpered like lambs
headed for slaughter,
the monkey on his back
jingled little bells
at the look-away crowd.
The war vet’s trusty
weapon at his side
rusted, nearly forgotten.

Up Against “It”

by George Wynn

The bureaucratic
computer world
of the “It”
doesn’t give a shit
about you who are
at the mercy
of something
The “It” wants you
The “It” wants you
to give up
and far too many
poor people do.