Bio Note: As winter approaches, in many dimensions survival becomes an immediate question. I These two poems focus on survival of people on the street, both written in the first year after I retired but was also working on a commission looking at issues related to people on the street. I knitted the hat for the woman. Both appeared in my chapbook, Urban Wild, and also in newspapers serving homeless people on the streets of Portland, Oregon and Tacoma, Washington. Both are "true" narratives. May we remember the people who suffer.
The cop’s cruiser patrols east. Saturday night may turn to drunks and domestics. Wet streets, tire slosh, midnight traffic. Three youths in bandanas and black jackets, a man in a motorized wheelchair with a whole earth flag. She pinches her thigh, tight blue pants on slick seat, a fat test before her next fitness challenge. Voodoo Doughnuts is open all night. Coffee. Maple bars. Or carrots and broccoli in her bag. Sunken graves, tipped stones, the pioneer graveyard promises this man only an owl gives a hoot at a lean January moon hung in wisps of shredded cloud. At the service center they call him William. He rustles in his pack, hauls out a tarp and tucks a slab of hand-me-out carrot cake from St. Andrews in the lip of plastic beside his knife sharpened to shine – talismans against wary night with bite. One yank on knitted cap under sweatshirt hood. Blankets from his cart, not too damp, unfold on tarp. He rolls up like a cigar and closes down hooded eyes against jungle blood. He’ll be gone before the jogger’s Jack Russell sniffs crumbs of sweet cake. The great horned owl waits atop a Douglas fir, glad to be rid of a mob of crows at the golf course. He shifts at crackle of tarp and plastic near the mausoleum’s wrought-iron fence. He hears a siren, a man snoring. He swivel-blinks for vole, mouse, the low-belows of graveyards calling forth launch, float on silent wing to feed on this, the end of day.
The Woman in the Pink Knitted Cap
She spent five arctic nights in a woman’s shelter, but creatures sniffling on cranky cots, overloaded her, a male guard at the gate. With the warm blow-in of southern rains, she moved to a nook in her one dry place. She’s a wrung-out sponge, blotting up damp in sweatshirts, tights, stretch pants, one too-small jacket and the church-lady-knitted cap. Relentless hours of hard rain erode her gut-starch, her cross is choking tight. One palm on the handle of her cart keeps her from flowing. Her fingerless glove swipes a dripping nostril. Her tongue plugs emptiness where a fist blew out a canine tooth. Keep body and soul pasted together, each wanders like her gray kitten. She refuses to look at street kids’ brindled pit bulls. What she cannot see will not bite. She whispers to good people she once knew and argues with the bad. When sleep knocks her down, her night hag tiptoes in, reigning hostess in a teetering house. Both seldom know where the bathroom is, never stare out windows and assume that every shaky roof must fall. She hears hag stories of lost sisters. Now and then they trade clothes. When morning comes, night hag hovers behind her left shoulder, a burden-crushing fog hangover of buzzing street light nights. She hums and No One, day stalker, always hears.
©2020 Tricia Knoll
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