Mary Rudge, the late poet laureate of the city of Alameda, holds up peace leaflets next to the statue of another peace activist, St. Francis of Assisi. by sculptor Harriet Moore.
Mary Rudge, the late poet laureate of the city of Alameda, holds up peace leaflets next to the statue of another peace activist, St. Francis of Assisi. by sculptor Harriet Moore.

To The Homeless Street Person

by Mary Rudge

How do I love thee not,
let me count the ways:
for the guilt I feel
when you sleep on sidewalks;
for impotence I show
when you cannot be helped;
for anger that destroys me
at what is not tried;
for sleeplessness in despair that
solutions have been failures;
for tears when I see your
picture in the newspapers;
for tears when no picture,
no report is made
as if no one cares;
for obituaries that say
Randy, or David, or Linda —
no info, no other name;
for my being part of society
that cannot cope with poverty;
because religion and government
are at odds on the homeless —
when the Bible warns there will
always be poor, for one reason after
another, in every country,
in every time,
so have a plan to care for them.
For my own suffering,
more than yours
I know I love you not.

by Mary Rudge

I woke to rain and bitter cold.
Hard ground was my bed.
And so soon was my name inscribed
On the wall of homeless dead.
Your Mirror Image, God
by Mary Rudge
The violence of ignoring you
shatters your soul
I see the pieces on the sidewalk
Bag of Bones
by Mary Rudge
The skin grows looser,
and looser around me,
old bag, shaken up,
the jumble in my brain.
What hand is this, this destiny
in a land that has tossed me
like garbage.
On Defining Democracy
by Mary Rudge
A democracy
was once defined
sarcastically –
as a land where
rich and poor can
sleep under bridges
Now no one is free
to sleep
on sidewalks,
in doorways,
in parks, in cars,
among bushes,
under bridges.
What philosophy
bridged this land
from Then until Now?
Fines, prisons, jail
for those who fail
to keep this new law.
But to be
to both sane
and insane
and to all homeless,
is still democracy.

Little Child in Your Land

by Mary Rudge

Little child in your land
bombs bursting in air.
We watch TVs, check our remote,
to see your crumbling skyline, be sure
that our flag is still there
in your streets, around your home.
In your streets, around your home,
bombs burst in air, we put them there.
We have so many bombs to spare,
and crave your oil, a major share.
Say, are you safe within our care? —
we bomb your land because we can,
kill your neighbors to show we dare,
destroy your home, pollute your air,
though vague on how to grieve
for you, or leave.
Who’s bad or good our power declares.
Vengeance is ours to decide
Let’s have no hidden weapons now,
we get ours out onto your land.
From our pockets to your skies.
In your streets your body lies.
Over carnage our flag flies,
we watch TV to see it’s there,
bombs bursting in air.
Little child, in our land,
on the sidewalks homeless lie
homeless hungry children cry,
schools are crumbling, and the poor
cannot afford health care and die.
Money sends bomb-burst in air,
who has cared for your welfare
little child in our land? We see where
over horror our flag flies.
So many years, so many wars,
so many little children die.
How can peace come to all lands
if we sing bombs burst in air
though our flag is there.
When our flag is there.
If flags fly then children die.

by Mary Rudge

I desperately look for your face
among the homeless and hungry.
I cannot find you.
I will feed this one,
I will take this one home,
in your name.
When I said I was searching for you
they asked: which ward do you
want to see?
What Multiple Sclerosis looks like?
What it looks like to be dying?
Have you seen AIDS? Schizophrenia?
turns like a flower toward the sun
toward love
like you, delicate around the mouth
with violet shadows,
everywhere I look.
Do people slip through the slats in
picket fences, the slats in hospital
beds? Become lost in trees?
Has anyone fallen past the Pacific Rim?
Is any poem I hold
strong enough for a lifeline?

Anyone You’ve Lost
by Mary Rudge

There are shanties down by the railroad track
and some are tarpaper, some are tin,
some are board with the walls so thin
newspapers cover the inside walls
to keep out the wind.
And the homeless build in the park,
some with cardboard and some with tarp
tents or lean-tos of plastic scrap.
There are people blanket-wrapped,
by day it’s a coat by night it’s a bed —
move on from this doorway the policeman said.
And a family can live in a rundown truck
that doesn’t move much, just enough
to keep on the move
every seventy-two hours, it’s the city law,
are they clean, do they cook, how do they eat?
Living on the street,
under the bushes close up to the church
outside where the ground is protected by frost
they shelter themselves, the ones who’ve lost.
The ones we’ve lost, but still our own,
our children, our sisters, our brother’s child.
Is anyone you’ve loved and known
without a home? Is anyone without a home
someone you can love?
One Nation Under God
by Mary Rudge
With broken eyeglasses and broken veins
she stands on the corner showing things
have a kaleidoscopic other view.
When she asks spare change
but you pass by
her only response is “God bless you”
and a broken-toothed smile.
She shows you how hearts really break,
can you feel your own?
She lets you see a whole country with
a government full of broken promises.
Midnight Haiku
by Mary Rudge

A bus goes by; another, another.
She is not waiting for a bus.
She is already at home. Here. On this bench.

Any Sunday Haiku

by Mary Rudge

Sunday morning. She does not go to church.
No place to park her shopping cart
full of crushed cans.
Letter to the Not Homeless
by Mary Rudge
A letter from the outer rim of rage
to the core of the inner being
of everyone
knowing the people
who live on the street out of mind
without home without healing
that we’ve learned to walk by
without seeing
that we don’t care who is feeding
that no one is feeding, a letter to all
with home and mailbox.
A letter to all who have learned not to care
not to share anymore, there have been
so many so poor so long they are not in our
line of vision, though they stand before us
beseeching, saying God Bless You
for nothing. A letter is coming, has come
from fury, from anger, from despair.
And it says (what it said ten years ago,
and last year, and this morning): We
don’t know where to go, what to do. Help!

A Classic For All Ages
by Mary Rudge

Seven-year-old Diana and I
cry over Gogol’s The Overcoat
on channel 9 now
cold Russia old poor man
even without subtitles
his face we both know.
It was cold in our house last winter
we had coats from the thrift shop
at night we slept in one bed
we piled on all the coats.
The cold old man is going to die
we saw that face once in our mirror,
and cry.

Journey from Christmas to Easter
by Mary Rudge


They followed the star
and found him
sleeping in a doorway.
They followed the star
and found him
lying in the alley, on cardboard.
They followed a star
and found him
sitting against a building,
wrapped in a blanket.
They followed a star and found
him at a bus stop, at 3 a.m.,
hypothermia setting in.
He looked up and saw the stars
through the drizzle of rain.
They were his roof.
He looked up and saw the stars
on the badges.
The police said, “go!”
The men with stars
on their police badges —
they would give him room:
jail cell, hospital, morgue
He had wandered far
Sonora to California,
illegal, ill, still no home, no room,
dispossessed, disappeared.
He had wandered far
wondering where to sleep
that night the shelter was full
no room for him again.
He did not hear
the angels sing
just police sirens.
He was 18, 29, 52, 70,
he had wandered far.
He was not a wise man
He could not follow the directions.
He was fired, laid off, not hired.
He was bipolar, alcoholic,
schizophrenic, an addict,
too low I.Q.
He did not understand
there would never
be room for him.
He had wandered far
1968 1986 2008
still no home, no shelter.
He had no job skills
no social connections
no family No buddy
no place in the end.
He had wandered far,
Louisiana, Texas, California,
He could not pay —
no room no room no room.
A black plastic sack
a cardboard box
his hands on a cart
of crushed cans, he said,
this is home.
She laid him
wrapped in a blanket
in a garbage bin
an infant, new-born
They found the infant
wrapped in a blanket
in the garbage bin —
the police with the stars
on their badges.