Three Poems About the Homeless

A Dark Figure

A dark figure

stands at the entrance of a lighted church.

Elmer the husky and I

walk the neighborhood at 5:30 AM.

No moon or stars seen in the sky.

I see the figure.

I know it’s a homeless man

because I see the homeless

almost every morning on our walks.

Think about that regularity.

It still astonishes me.

We approach him.

I lead Elmer off the sidewalk

to give us some distance

to go around.

I don’t like feeling that way,

but it happens sometimes.

He’s smoking a cigarette.

He’s tall, young, bearded, contorted.

He’s looking up at the sky,




but utterly silent.

If there had been stars,

just one,

or the moon,

even a sliver,

I might understand.

There is nothing

but black.

Usually, I say good morning

to the homeless.

Not this morning.

Bark Chip Artist

It’s 5:30 in the morning.

A purple and orange outline

of Mt. Hood forms in the eastern sky.

A planet’s up there, too,

but I can’t name it.

I learned nothing useful

in junior high science.

Worm dissections and

petri dish molds.

Never one lesson

about watersheds.

I walk Elmer the maniacal husky through the park.

Time for another encounter

with the homeless.

Perhaps walk into

an arresting image

to inspire a poem.

We pass a young homeless

man smoking a cigarette

and fiddling on his phone.

I say good morning.

He doesn’t look up.

No poem there.

Fifty yards later,

a homeless man approaches.

He walks crooked and shuffling.

We meet.

I say good morning.

He grunts something

in return

I don’t catch it

but I think it

sounded cordial.

Nothing like a cordial grunt

for a greeting.

Possible poem there.

We cross the bridge

where below the old beaver lurks.

A can of Coors

rests on a rail.

I see a homeless man

carrying a bag of cans and bottles

across the street.

I call out to him about the can.

He says, thank you

and crosses the street.

No poem there.

But possible greeting card.

Geese honk overhead.

Freight trains lurch and decouple.

Elmer and I keep moving.

We hit the bark chip path,

lit up by lampposts,

and pass the

split oak

and fallen cedar.

Down the path

I see a homeless man


He stops and

scratches out something

in the bark chips

with his right foot.

He’s designing something.

He’s not scraping

dog shit of his shoes.

Art is happening!

Maybe a haiku!

I’ve got to see what he’s creating!

The man turns right

and disappears across a bridge.

Elmer and I move forward.

I stop and behold the artist’s design:

It’s giant penis with testicles.

It’s ejaculating!

Definitely got a poem here.

Smooth Extrication

Movement outside my front window.

I move to investigate.

A gnarled and bearded

homeless man,

sorts through

my neighbor’s garbage can

with a homemade

claw of a tool.

This? Maybe.


Not this.


The claw extricates a garment.

The extrication is silky smooth.

A gray WSU hoodie.

He inspects it.

He folds it neatly, tight.

He sets it on his wagon.

My neighbor must have thought

the hoodie too dirty and threadbare to donate.

It makes me wonder what I’ve thrown away

that still had purpose.

The claw extricates another garment.

Even smoother this time.

A gray WSU sweatshirt.

He inspects it.

He folds it neatly, tight.

He sets it atop the hoodie.

He makes me think of my

dead Uncle Dale.

A clothes horse

who hung up his

t-shirts on hangers

and arranged them by color.

Someone, somewhere

along the way

taught this man

how to fold clothes

like this.

His form didn’t develop

on its own.

He’s been doing

it his whole life

and he’s now in his

40s or 50s.