(coke) Painting by Jonathan Burstein


In a Shelter with

the 1970 Blues

by George Wynn

He’s sitting alone
in the shelter reading
the Sporting Green
which is better than sleeping
alone on a mean street
He reads that the heavyweight
champion of the world
Joe Frazier has died
now he’s inside a 1970
memory: full of life
teaching sculpture
with his wife
He told himself years ago
he’d never go to a shelter
Here he is: no
energy, will or hope
tired of people staring
and calling him weird
He just wants to stop, give up
Often lonely, he got a dog
someone to care for
and care about him
then the dog died
Now here he is:
his balance (emotional
and physical) waning
Nothing in reserve
scratching his Moses beard
debating foregoing
the final round

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 help from God
or from butterflies on flowers.

Veteran at Home

by Julia Vinograd

A veteran demands his room be hotter.
His bones chilled in a hospital under the nurse’s cold fingers
and colder smiles and a spiderweb of tubes.
At night he could almost see the summer spider
waiting to drain his heat as it drained his buddies.
The veteran makes his family build up a fire in his room.
He has a double vision.  When he looks out the window
the rose vine in full-scented bloom covering his window frame
is also the spiderweb of tubes. Nurses walk in the flames.
He snarls, and tries to turn them into strippers and fails.
Before he was shot he sweated in his armor all the time
and cursed the heat.  And now he can’t remember.
Sometimes his eight-year-old son comes in with a basketball.
They both say hello politely, as they were told.
But the whole desert stretches between them.

Proud and Happy

Bag Lady

by Ava Bird

i am a bag lady!
i carry bags around wherever i go!
bags and bags and bags of necessities like food and water, lip balm and pens, shoes and bras,
photos and phones, underwear and socks, papers, scissors, rocks
in my bags of life,
my bags of living in the now,
holy bags of sacred chow and dough
presents for friends and the present is our present,
our presence is like a wrapped gift with a bow,
deep conscious awareness minus any baggage,
reflections in the mirrors of the clouds,
back to the clarity of sunshine, blinded by the light at times,
dark circles with eye bags
clean thy bags of dirty laundry,
my hemp bags take me to the beach with bags of goodies, hats and hoodies
let’s score a bag at farmers markets, no plastic please,
thanks for the cloth bag and the handles on my paper bags,
double bags,
thanks for helping me with my bags when they are heavy baggage,
i must let go and rest too,
release my bags when it’s time to go,
never forget bags to the airport!
everyone’s bags and bags!
they don’t even know they are bag people too
and how much weight and baggage they carry
even with no bag please,  i just use my own,
BYOB:   bring your own bags please!
the goddess blesses she who brings her own,
like her and you,
and us
i’m just another independent modern day DIY bag girl,
just another proud & happy, crazy bag lady!

today at social security

by Judy Jones

today at social security i did see
a man shaking so badly he couldn’t stand
telling everyone he just got out of jail
and needed a hand
he had no teeth
and looking in his eyes
i could see he was in a place
few on earth see
and the young woman
weighing about 300 pounds
talking on her phone
bout her daddy who beat her so badly
they came and took her away
when she was only three
and now she lived in shelters or on the street
with her baby in hand
she was begging for a place
she could call home and find peace
the couple from china
who spoke not a word of english, nor heard
and instead looked into space
refusing to accept they too were part of this place
a man and wife nodding off on hard drugs
he holding her upright
so the security guard wouldn’t make them leave
while they drifted in and out of opium dreams
waiting to get on ssi
and the elderly man who was alone but
seemed to know this was not his true home
and he like me and all the rest were but pilgrims
just passing thru this temporary place
and the woman yelling at the guards
she wanted to been seen by a clerk now
and would fight anyone who got in her way
why in god’s name she cried
did they put her last
the guard looked happy
when getting ready
to bully anyone
who stepped outta line
but ya see
no one in this place had the strength to even fight
which was long gone
and all that was left were dreams
of what they could have been if only
his job was finished each day
before work began
not one person struggled with him
past a few nasty words
sighing he would go back to his post
still longing for a good fight
but alas he knew too
the people had been beaten down
into the ground by life
and he would never have the great fights
he dreamed of every night
when watching cops and robbers on tv
and the tattooed woman
a snake on her face
and spiders lizards and worms
covering her arms and legs
i looked at everyone
soaking in their pain
and knew once again
they were me and I them
no one was above or below another
we were all one
in the same dream
a super clear mirror did i see today
of the 2012 usa society
while at the social security office down the street

it’s sad

by Michael Leslie

main idea’s not be homeless —
bed, kitchen, bath
for privacy, who’d object?
but nothing’s given in this
modern concrete jungle
devoid of tribal sharing.
sad seeing innocents
still in school or graduated
working check-out counters
or movie house late night
ill-fitting purple uniform
sweeping popcorn from seats.
who’s siphoning tax money
forcing these kids
to augment family income?

Another Drop

by Jack Bragen

Short man
Tall man
Weak man
Sleek man
Smart Man
Too young to vote
Domestic Engineer
Space Shuttle Engineer
Truck Driver
Book Writer
Floor Cleaner
Business Manager
All of us in our time
Stand naked before the light
It makes no distinctions
We’re all worthy
No matter who
we think we are
No matter what
we think we’ve done
We are a droplet of water
going back into the ocean
All debts become repaid
We shed our shells
What we are and were
And we are again innocent


by Claire J. Baker

harshest reality
to hinterlands
of fantasy
and there the
shy little bird
in our soul
sang, waiting.

Street Musician

by Julia Vinograd

He sits on a blue egg crate under a street-corner tree,
his long crossed legs balancing a guitar. Skinny wrists.
Hungry ribs. A string of dark feathers and beads
dangles from his vest.  Black hair tied in a ponytail.
He plays red-black cherries he can’t reach.
He plays rare steak and onions with a sizzling fringe of fat.
He plays bulging burritos and hot sauce.
He plays corn on the cob with plenty of butter.
He plays pepperoni pizzas spinning around people’s heads
like saints’ gold haloes. He plays everything he hasn’t eaten
for almost a week.  His music opens doors in the air to picnics,
deviled eggs, tuna sandwiches, a bowl of apples,
chocolate cake and lemonade. His music slices sunset clouds
like big pink hams. His music is a mirage of a feast in the desert.
His music makes mouths water.

i believe for every tear

by Judy Jones

i believe for every tear
an infant sheds
a trillion angels appear
drying their eyes
holding ‘em near
bathing them in divine light
i believe for every child
that dies alone in the night
two billion saints gather round
holding its tiny soul tightly
to their breasts and placing it
at the feet of our lord
where it finally finds rest
i believe that god’s gold
can never be bought
borrowed or sold
and will remain thru eternity
and offered to the little ones
that suffered most
i believe one day
we shall all weep
for those we walked past
and let die
forgotten on the streets
and most of all i believe
that divine love
erases all and makes new
you and me
setting our spirit souls free!!
I believe
oh my god
i doth believe!!!!

Lady Luck

by George Wynn

While chess players
hustle games in the
Market Street cold
a beggarman holds out his
hands and an aristocratic lady
with gloves and straw hat
places a twenty in
each swollen palm.

(flowers) Painting by Jonathan Burstein


by Julia Vinograd

Bad street where 2 gangs fought over territory.
Neighborhood families demanded help.
The city council planted a row of flowering trees.
Small with white blossoms at every other paving stone.
Cops wouldn’t go near the place
but flowering trees couldn’t leave.
Tattooed gang members, dragons, naked girls who wiggled
over a clenched muscle, jail house tears
and flowers.  And flowers.
Two gangs fought, left a young boy behind with a knife wound.
White petals didn’t dial 911.
White petals covered his rose tattoos,
spangled his leather and turned red in his blood.
A few white petals slipped between his lips instead of breath.
A flowering branch torn off in the struggle lay beside him.
His mother asked for the branch but by the time she got there
all the petals had fallen.


by Joan Clair

Later that afternoon the soldiers came … to inspect our yard …. they watched Tae-yul … burning a huge pile of rose of Sharon trees … and marched off …. The little rose of Sharon tree [hidden] in its pot amid the workshop clutter was safe.”                   — Linda Sue Park, When My Name was Keoko
Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these … you have done it unto me.”  Matthew 25:40
Who could imagine the inclusiveness of the “least of these?”
* Animals in a Polish zoo exterminated by the Nazis for their lack of breed specific racial purity.
* Rose of Sharon trees, the “national tree” of Korea exterminated by invading Japanese who replaced them with cherry trees, the “national symbol” of Japan.
* Pets who became homeless after their owners were taken away by the Nazis, not given new homes because of their “ethnic identity.”  They were considered “Jewish dogs.”
Animals and trees are among the “least of these,” given identities, ethnicities, nationalities that have nothing to do with them


by Joan Clair

The homeless man who wandered into Cafe Gratitude
had never heard of a piece of cake for $8.00.
Yet this is where his path had taken him;
so I bought him a piece of cake,
and someone else bought him a bag of granola.
Cafe Gratitude has something to be grateful for.



by Claire J. Baker

Jack Kerouac and the gang
chose the streets — slums,
later swamps, deserts, woods,
even tents, but they managed
somehow to keep on going —
“beat” as they were, winnowing
their lives down to the point of
no return, or that sidewise eight
for Infinity…


Bebop Friend

by George Wynn

Kicking back on
South of Market side street
out of view of ticket police
sharing a king-size falafel
sandwich and tall cool one
with old musician friend
telling me tales
of the spontaneity and feeling
of Bebop and Charlie Parker’s
exquisite technique.
“Lot’s changed” I chime in
“Nothing’s changed
back then I sported a
goatee, wore shades
and a beret and they
called us creeps
Now I walk down the
street with my cane
and my bundle and
they call me homeless


Holding Onto Hope

in San Quentin Prison

by Stevie Lamar Fields, Barry G. Williams, Michael Sabre Hill

I hold onto hope because
I don’t know how not to
I tried to figure things out
except each step appears new
Separation is built
instead of building up each other
It’s not hard to see that
we as humans are one
Until this madness stops
we won’t move any further
I hold onto hope because
I don’t know how not to
I hold onto hope because
I can’t do this without you
I’m holding onto hope
Hold onto hope with us!
The three authors of this poem
are inmates in San Quentin Prison.



I Am From the Place of Nightmares and Dreams

by Tammy Huynh

I am from the pencils that yell out the ugliness
I am from the flowers that are thirsting for attention
I am from the comic pages filled with superheroes that comfort every child that one day Superman will come and save them
I am from the mute shadows that chase after you for help
I am from a place where there is no oxygen, just clouds of fear that float in the atmosphere
Our homes are our turtle shells
I am from the footsteps of these murderers that walk through the icy night
I am from the fiery red devil that lurks in the man’s body as he stands pointing a gun at you
I am from the impatient bullets that do not wait until your old age for death
I am from the beat-up cars’ headlights that flash the screaming clips of young children’s beatings
I am from the rocking chair that whines and aches on the hardwood floor for so many generations of old people have sat on it
I am from the books that itch for someone to flip their pages
I am from a place where people live in nightmares and dream about paradise
Tammy Huynh, an East Oakland youth, explained why she wrote this poem: “I have read the Street Spirit about many things that homeless people have experienced, and it has inspired me to write a poem about the similar things that I also see in my neighborhood.”

Unpaved Thoughts on

Sleepless Pavement

by Claire J. Baker

“Nearing the end of the world” —
(could this be in the offing,
weakened as we are by weather
and by our endless coughing?)
We try to stay alive —
sometimes forgetting why.
If we rival the lowly cockroach,
surely we’ll survive?

A Berkeley Beggar

by Maureen Hartmann

Begging must be hard, humiliating work
yet it takes savvy of people,
like that of a psychologist.
The man was standing on Shattuck,
in front of Games of Berkeley,
dressed in the drab uniform of the poor.
His palm outstretched in front of him
to receive my change was grubby.
Yet he managed to remember seeing me
volunteering at a couple of
public free meals.
He earned a dollar from me
on a clear Sunday morning.