Street Corner Coffee Man

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I’m street corner coffee man once again

Always have been here listening to air-shifted words

Coffee sipped dog Charley wagging he’s in love

Again and again and again – I warned him

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I’m street corner coffee man on level ground

Nothing under the pavement but broken dreams

Developer’s plans but the warmth comforts

These muscles bones – I’m just kicked back waiting

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I’m street corner coffee man broken stride healing

Stoop chicks still smile when you walk by smiling

A wave a kindness a moment a friendship a dream

Legs strong kicking pebbles – see uncharted pathways

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Street corner coffee man sings a song for me

Street corner coffee man winks back a tear

Street corner coffee man letting it all be

Street corner coffee man is always here

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The Soup Kitchen

It had been years since I’d gone to a soup kitchen. It will not be years before I go again. I plan on going Monday.

I’d be lying if I said going to the soup kitchen for lunch was emotionally easy. It wasn’t.  I suppose when one goes for the first time, or, in my case,  returns after having gone years without needing the support of a soup kitchen, it’s never easy. The last time I went to a soup kitchen was in the early 1970s in New York City when I was homeless. I am not homeless now. In fact, I like my apartment. It is in an old house and the walls are thick and the rooms are comfortably sized and, not surprisingly, given who I am, there are books everywhere.

There just not always enough food and so I go to a wonderful food pantry every two weeks and, yesterday, the soup kitchen. They will be serving a Thanksgiving meal at 4:30 Thanksgiving and I plan on being there.

I’d half-suspected yesterday would have been a shattering experience for me. It wasn’t. There had to be something in the neighborhood of a hundred people there. All ages. One woman in her fifties was there with her family. She had finished her meal and was fully absorbed with reading a book while her family ate and chattered among themselves on either side of her.

The protocol is you sit at a table and these college kids serve you lunch and then desert. They call the men sir and the women mam. They were all very nice and very attentive. The food was not bad and the desert was a piece of rather tasty carrot cake. I was at a table with two men. One was a younger fellow who, while pleasant enough, was not very talkative. I asked him how the food was. He smiled and waggled his hand in the air, the universal sign for so-so. I never did learn his name.

My other tablemate was Bob. Bob is in his fifties. His cheeks are flushed and seem swollen. There is a concave area under his left chin. He’d had cancer some years back. He tells me he’s been cancer free for five years. We talked about our circumstances, our days of homelessness, the recent election, and, no matter what anyone says, we both still have loads of admiration for Lance Armstrong. Say what you will about the man, he battled back from cancer and raised millions so others might do the same. That, and like one person said, an EPO doesn’t turn a donkey into a racehorse.

Bob gave me some tips on a soup kitchen for the weekend. The one yesterday runs Monday through Friday. I left before Bob. We shook hands and said we were glad to meet each other and it was true. I left with a small container of lentil soup they’d given me to take home.

When I got home I sat on the living room rug with my back against the couch. Soon both my dogs were nestled against me. I took out the book I’ve been reading, “Herzog,” by Saul Bellow and read.

Even when life is difficult, it’s good.

Shape shifting…

Shape shifting rhythmic pastimes and I’m on a roll again

Seen sunrises sunsets moving across darkened lines hopes rising

Breathing morning air smiling quietly a new day dawns again

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Shape shifting in the early hours and I’m slow stepped again

Felt the pulsing tones of up and down blood flowing

Quiet night drifts in and sweet sleep beckons again

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Shape shifting I’m with my street boys on the stoop talking again

Magic first love striding by my side glistens like sunlight gold

Climbed from bed early morning eyes set on writing again

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Shape shifting seasons come and seasons go then do it again

Yet a lifetime’s motion has a beginning and an end

And with all that’s come and gone I’d do it again

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Chasing Home

Published in 1961, the second edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary defines home as “One’s own dwelling place…the house in which one lives with his family” and “a place of refuge and rest.” It seems like I have been chasing home all my life.

Losing home at any age is soul-splitting. It wounds the heart. It slaughters hope. It can utterly exterminate one’s sense of worth. When a child loses home it can be emotionally lethal. Loss leaves gaping holes. When a child loses home and family any sense of safety in the world is pulverized and any sense of belonging in life may perish.

For a child, the loss of home and family leads you to feel and believe you are nothing, and if, by chance, you are left with any residue of self at all, it’s not much. This is exactly what happened to me. I now believe what I have been chasing no longer exists for me because family no longer exists – at least none that I grew up with – and home, I am learning, is best found in the rooms of one’s mind. I certainly think the notion that home is where you hang your hat is absolute rubbish. Quaint phrase, I grant you, but absolute rubbish nonetheless.

My relationship with home and family ended in 1969, 16 weeks after my father died unexpectedly at age 55. I was 15. Sixteen weeks later my mother placed me in reform school on a PINS (Person In Need of Supervision) petition. When I was released 13 months later, I was not allowed back in the family and so, at age 17, I was homeless. My life with a family had come to an end.

I don’t know if I can stop chasing home, chasing that place of refuge and rest that is or feels like it is immune from assault from without and within. Even though I intellectually understand it does not exist, my heart remembers days when I was a boy and everyone was still alive. Days with my father and Poppop, my grandfather on my mother’s side, when I knew I was the safest most loved little boy in all the world. That were a bomb to drop from the sky their presence would assure my safety. And while some might say all this makes me a hopeless romantic, it is who I am. And I spend my life with who I am.

To be continued…

Leaps of Faith

I heard the following joke recently. A man falls down a deep hole that extends miles into the earth. He manages to stop his fall by grabbing onto a root with one hand. As he begins to tire he looks up at the small circle of light above him and yells, “Is there anybody up there?!” Suddenly a bright light from shines down and a deep voice says, “I am the Lord thy God. Let go of the root. I will save you.” The man pauses for a moment and then yells, “Is there anybody else up there?!”

Real leaps of faith, by any measure, are not easy. They often mean you’ll be holding hands with some gut ripping fear for a bit. Which is exactly what I felt this past Sunday when my landlords, a truly good and decent couple, informed me I would need to move out of the home I’ve been renting from them for nine years, in 30 days. It seems their marriage is coming to an end and the husband need to take up residence in the house.

I don’t need to tell you how frightening it is to lose your home. Home is far more than a physical thing. It is a spiritual, physical and emotional sanctuary.  Not so when you realize it is lost. Frightening for anyone, with an added degree of difficulty when the very part of your brain that allows you to manage emotion is damaged, which is where my damage is. The frontal lobe. And so for the first day I was pretty much incapacitated, difficulty speaking, trembling, hunched over, knowing what it was that was happening to me but unable to shake it and knowing too that that’s okay. Those disabling moments still grab me during the day – and night. We are all allowed our human experience, even when upsetting and unpleasant, and we make a mistake, albeit an understandable one, when we try to avoid the more unpleasant experiences of life.

I long ago learned that the only way to get through a terrifying or heartbreaking time is to give myself permission to go through it. In other words, allow the experience.

And so here I am with my three dogs hoping that I will be able to find a new home in time. I have already gotten a storage space and will begin to place things in storage and look for friends to watch my dogs for me if the worst happens and no new home shows up in time. I have been homeless in my life and the homeless monster is, even though I know intellectually it will not get me (I don’t think), bearing down on me with glistening hatred eyes.

There is one thing this experience will not take from me. My sobriety. One of the wonderful things about being sober is when all hell breaks loose in life, I can look the circumstances in the eye, snarl to myself, and say, You can’t take my sobriety.

Anyway, one day at a time. Keep the faith, even if doing so is a leap. It is for me right now.

And remember, it’s okay to be afraid, don’t let it scare you.

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