The Flower Girl

by Terry Messman

“She always arrives late, with flowers!”
That’s how your mother always recalled
your childhood: flowers and smiles.
Every morning when she woke you,
you opened your eyes already smiling.
Out of the cradle endlessly smiling.

One dark morning, I saw you walk
into the valley of the shadow of death
— still smiling.
A massive brain tumor clouded your
mind, impaired your speech, gave you
headaches, erased your memory.
But it could never erase that smile.
It was still shining in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
That smile was the last thing I saw as
they wheeled you away to surgery,
the first thing I saw when it was over,
all those endless, agonizing hours later.
The neurosurgeon said you woke up
smiling, despite the torturous pain of a
craniotomy, blood loss and transfusion.
They reattached your skull with 46
metal staples and titanium screws, yet
your smile is attached more lastingly.
It lasted all through the entire next
year of pain and disability.
Even as your world was shattered by
illness, epilepsy, disability, job loss,
and constant threats of eviction,
you never once thought of yourself.
You rejoiced that sharing the plight of
the poor would give you deeper empathy
for others facing sorrow and poverty.
A friend was so moved by your spirit
of selfless kindness, he told me,
“We should build a religion around her.”
Yesterday, you were in full flower,
smiling in joy when a flower festival
gave you overflowing baskets full of
pink and red Camellia flowers
to give to seniors living in poverty.
Of course, in the real world of poverty,
illness, evictions, and cruel injustice,
blossoms are pointless,
and beauty is powerless.
Flowers and smiles are
too fragile, too fleeting.
They blossom only to fade away, fleeting
as life itself — the life you nearly lost.
Yet some blossoms are perennials.
As we once sang, “Yes, it is bread we
fight for, but we fight for roses too!”
Dostoyevsky’s Prince Myshkin believed
“Beauty will save the world.”
By taking beauty to the shelter,
your flowers saved one part of it.
You smile in the spirit of Don Quixote:
Free flowers for the poor
could subvert the whole economy,
beauty could ruin the banking system,
kindness could wreck capitalism.
As you arrived bearing flowers,
beaming away as you gave them away,
I suddenly saw you so clearly
20 years ago, on your wedding day.
You wore a flower wreath in your hair.
Flowers in your hair.
Flowers everywhere.

the side show

by Randy Fingland

while I was watching
the 2nd Gulf War
another statistic
in the homeless count
was added to the rolls
she wasn’t a 50 million
dollar missile sent out
packed to become
an exciting exploding light
in the night sky
but another woman lost
in the shifting sands
of economic uncertainty
now she has a perch
next to the BART entrance
where she extends a small
hand & a smile in thanks
for the coins that trickle
down into her palm from
the cost of America’s might

Women Sleeping in Chairs in San Francisco

by George Wynn

Long ago back in the Midwest
she never imagined her golden
years sleeping in a chair
(the only way she gets her rest)
in a women’s shelter day
by day in the city by the bay
Between winks she listens to
the voices of long lost friends
and realizes her past is finished
yet has reveries about starting
a new life with new friends but
it doesn’t feel the same
almost like the difference
between strolling under the sun
and walking in the rain
In the morning she writes
down her words in her journal
sometimes it gives her comfort
sometimes it makes her sadder
but she is determined that hope
beckons and her nightmare will
someday soon be gone even as
a woman her same age who sleeps
in the next chair says there’s
no magic in the words on a page
she sees her write every day
and accuses her of being addicted
to the song of hope

Mother Loss

by Joan Clair

I wanted to call my mother to
let her know, “I want to come home.”
But I couldn’t remember
the number of her telephone.
She’d been gone so long.
When she was alive
she was too depressed
to build a nest.
I never felt that I belonged.
But still, “Mother,” my soul cries,
“I want to come home.”

“Flowers” Painting by Jonathan Burstein. Free flowers for the poor could subvert the whole economy.


One More Step

by George Wynn

On Sixth Street
our eyes meet and
his unwanted blue
eyes say I’ve learned
to make do without
His face breathes grace
relaxed lips force a smile
jaw slack as if craving
beyond craving to inhabit
a new and better space
I offer the hunched-over
old man help with
the beat-up suitcases
he’s lugging to the
pews of St. Boniface for
morning sleep
In front of the church
he offers a thank you kindly
“You must be very tired,” I say
“Yes but I always tell myself
just one more step.”

On Prime Time TV

(in a small town)

by Claire J. Baker

Night. Trying to get warmer
a well-meaning man, not old
yet way too thin, got wedged
in a 16-inch drain pipe
coming out of a hillside.
A rescue squad pulled him
free by his dirty boots.
Photographers were quick to shoot
the stunned man, shirtless, half-ill.
(“Thank you, thank you,” he said.)
His body temp was subnormal
and his life had no place to go.
All he really had was his freedom
and it was cold and tight
at the edges, a tricky combination.

Housing Authority Official Trying to Shake Hands with Man in Homeless Encampment

by George Wynn

“Forget it! Don’t talk.
Every word you say is a damn lie.
You see what I need but you
won’t do a thing for me.
You make me sick.
Stay the hell away.
I ain’t got no time
for you — ever!
Yeah, your type made me crazy.
So what. And don’t look at me
with no uppity slick eyes
like I live in the city dump.
Shut up for a change — chump!”

Tenderloin Barter

by George Wynn

He’s streetwise
bold with a
heart of gold
and so is she
Every weekend
morning on a
Tenderloin stoop
an old Chinese woman
feeds him sweet
and sour pork
kung pao chicken
steamed rice and coffee
Weekdays he often
helps her carry groceries
never asking anything in return
“You help me for free
I help you for free”
she says with a ridiculously
strong handshake for her age
Between crazed bites of
meat he blows kisses
to the wind and her
She laughs and offers napkins
“You will see me Monday?”
He throws out his callused palms
“My hands were made to
carry your bags madam”