A homeless man holds a brother who has fallen on the streets. Artwork by Dave Kim


by J. Fernandez Rua

In this sooty soup
grit-gray rain
I need to lay it down.
Let it all go
and tell you about a real poem.
A poem made of flesh and blood
with far-seeing eyes
and a deep
and powerful grace.
His name was Juan Gonzalez.
Juan Gonzalez.
I met him on a line
waiting for a bowl of soup and a
piece of bread.
And soon, within weeks, we were
He became a brother to me.
Where he walked, I walked.
Where he ate, I ate.
Where he slept, I slept.
When I was sick, he nursed me.
When he was sick, I nursed him.
we even slept under the same blanket.
At times, he reminded me of St. Francis
Because he loved pigeons too.
Called them his little brothers.
Then just when I was beginning to see
that this man
who walked around with the words
of Jesus in his pocket,
that this man could teach me
something real
what we expect but never talk about
especially on the street — happened:
One December night he fell asleep
on a bench
in Old Man’s Park
and never woke up again.
His beautiful heart just stopped.
The streets had worked him too hard
for too long.
And now he was done.
So remember:
His name was Juan Gonzalez.
And he died on a bench
in Old Man’s Park.
Not because he was a drunk, demented,
or insane.
Not because he was on heroin or crack.
Not because he didn’t want to live.
The truth is simple.
He wanted what we all want:
to love and be loved
in the peace of his own God.
And something more.
More than anything —
to be useful
to be useful.
Yes, the truth is simple:
He died because
and only because
like me,
maybe like you,
he was poor,
gritty gray poor.
And except for Sister Mary and her
few sisters, here and there,
you tell me
Who gives a damn about the poor
Stand or kneel,
beg or cry
we are on our own.
No one knew that better
or deeper
than my brother Juan Gonzalez.
And if he were here today,
Right now.
He would say this:
“My people tears of thee,
tears of me.  Joy of me.
This sweet land where Jesus lives,
where Jesus bleeds,
this country my father loved,
that I love,
this earth and sky,
belongs to us too.
And that house we built
with our sweat and blood,
that we carry on our backs
gleaming white in the morning sun
where our president lives
that house belongs to us too.
So let us not be demonized
Let us not be cast aside
Let us not be victimized
or shamed into a silence
where nothing grows but pity and pain.
Let us rise instead.
Yes, let us rise.
Rise above the fear,
beyond the sooty, sorry streets
that beat us down to blue and gray.
Let us rise and be the dreamcatchers
we were born to be.
Let us rise to the revelation
that we are made of love.
I said love.
A light so true and fearless
that it won’t be deferred or denied.
Never again left to die in the dark.
Yes, my people, tears of thee
tears of me.
Joy of me.
Whatever your name is
I am you
Whatever language or culture you
were born into
I am you
Whatever race you belong to
I am you
Whatever faith you hold onto
I am you
Whether you are man or woman
I am you
Whether you’re in prison in New York
or a detention camp in the fields
of Nebraska
I am you
Whether you’re sleeping on a square
of cardboard in Oakland
or under a grid in Philadelphia
I am you
I am in every living pulsating cell
that hungers for justice
and the right to love.
I am you.
I am you.