A watercolor painting of a person fishing in the ocean. The ocean is brightly colored and the sun is setting. Stormy clouds are overhead.
(Simone Rotman)

I recycle plastic
rummage through trash,

Live by the
freeway underpass,

I wear a smile
but really it’s just a mask,

How do I sleep 
or eat you ask,

I figured
you’d misunderstand,

Think I’m a lazy
or a foolish man,

Without health insurance
or a retirement plan,

Living in a house
of cardboard built on sand,

Forever holding
out my hand,

You judge my clothing
prejudge my mind,

But you never
read my sign,

Walk by me and frown
every single time,

If for each spite
I only had a dime,

It should be a crime
poverty is an age-old color line,

You cringe openly
without hesitation,

I’m cut twice
by your discrimination

I bear the lashes 
of societal-alienation,

I hurt, deep in my soul
but I keep hopin’,

That our communities
as a whole would be woken,

Please hear
what can’t be spoken,

I feel like a cast-away
I’m faithful but broken,

The poor found
lost in the open,

I’m optimistic
despite my mood,

Can I wash your windows 
I will work for food,

I fish off the pier
my valuables in a shoe box,

I don’t steal,
and I don’t smoke rocks,

Experience some setbacks
suffered some hard-knocks,

Two tours in Iraq,
nightmares that won’t stop,

I have P.T.S.D.
and other psychological knots,

Emotions which run 
cold then hot,

Escaped my batterer,
ran for blocks,

With my purse, medication,
and the clothes on my back

When your spouse threatens
to kill you, take it as a fact,

I’m not for sale
I have no needle tracks,

My hunger not a scheme,
my homelessness not an act,

You wonder if I’ll 
spend your 50 cents on crack,

I’d rather buy 
a Cup-O-Noodle in fact,

Spiritually I feel abandoned
mentally I feel under attack,

There are gray areas
indeed lines get blurry,

You give suspiciously 
with regret and worry,

Avert your eyes
and walk by in a hurry,

Before you judge me 
please consider my story,

I’d tell it for a penny,
I am one of many.

This poem is part of a collection called EXHIBIT-A: HOMELESSNESS. 

Douglas Levon Dawkins aka Truth N. Poetry is a poet and writer born and raised in the Bay Area. Prior to his incarceration, he was homeless, and says poetry and art have helped him in his lifelong battle with depression. He is currently incarcerated in California.