Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Deborah Bogen: Homeless Box

Homeless Box: Santa Monica

Don’t call them homeless, she told us, they’re people experiencing home-less-ness. She spoke a people-first dialect and I knew she was right, but these homeless, these particular homeless, aren’t in transition. They will always experience home-less-ness, will always sleep on this street where we walk by them, around them. Over them. Sometimes we cross to the other side to get away from their carts and tarps, to avoid their dirty murky faces, but mostly we look through them, past them, above them, our eyes seeking the sanctuary of the shiny store windows. We try to keep walking, to keep our eyes trained on the high-priced growling traffic. Sometimes the light won’t change, so we put a hand up to stop the glare while we take in the sooty bloody sunset.

Homeless Box: Berkeley

It’s raining. In Berkeley a monstrous shit-slurry washes over the park. The cops come ‘round, but there’s no billy-club-stun-gun-bull-horn action. They just pull down the tents and move the people on. The old woman is new to the park. The kids call her street slow because she’s still learning homelessas a second language. She lacks street smarts, street skills, and she’ll never understand the Berkeley Sit-Lie Law. Still, it’s something that she’s alive and making this new kind of progress. Already she knows she can’t sleep on a bench or in a church or in a dumpster or in a stairwell or in the library or on the subway or in the park. Never in the park.

Homeless Box: Boulder

When the pianist plays Beethoven’s Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, I forget about the old vet in the sweat-stained T-shirt, the one I saw boozing under the 9thstreet bridge. I forget the frenzied glory as he hammered out Old Joe Clark on a battered banjo, his only audience a burnt-out kid with a wormhole stare. Concert halls are meant to pacify so I forget, and which of us would say Beethoven is not necessary? That these $50 seats are theft. 

In Boulder we are not unkind. We make sure the poor can listen too. They can sit outside on the damp grass as B’s gorgeous Adagio snakes out into a deepening night. This must be what Fitzgerald meant by the comforting proximity of millionaires.


Copyright 2019 Deborah Bogen.

Poet and novelist Deborah Bogen‘s many books include In Case of Sudden Free Fall, a collection of poems published by Jacar Press.

Photo: BBC

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