A Man, a Survivor

[a poem by   ~burning woman~  ]

A strange old man, a very ancient figure,
that’s who he was,
who he is,
who he will always be
.

A man of many titles in as many times:
poor Bill, mendicant, beggar and tramp.

At times,
panhandler, good-for-nothing loafer,
deadbeat, vagrant, hobo, gypsy
and in more recent times,
a welfare bum.

Sometimes this strange man
whom everybody sees, nobody knows
comes back from the sea,
sometimes from the wars or prison:
no one comes to the quay
or the bus stop to meet him

and to hug him.

Alone,
carrying a damp and dirty canvas bag
he limps down some dark alley
to find a familiar den,
a smoke-filled tavern, an inn.
a halfway house.

For a few coins, a room under a stairway
a garret with drafty shutters,
a condemned house

become his home ’til the angels come
or the demons, and who can ever tell?

Sometimes he just gets tired of jostling
for position and wealth – leaves one night
never to come back. Why for?

His wife re-married, does he care?
Who’s to know? Not even he
wandering the drafty city streets
with his new title and essential wealth.

He’s a successful miner now,
mining garbage for treasures
haphazardly arranged in a rusty shopping cart
(of front squeaky bent wheel
from an accidental encounter with a taxi)
until deposited for safekeeping.

They call him homeless now, the
politically correct term
for this strange old man who never did fit,
who in his youth had a strong back
to break up the coal, carry gear and pack a rifle
walk through flooded paddies
and burn babies in their mothers’ arms
inside grass huts in a land so far away.

He knew well enough then why he did this:
for God and country and freedom
they’d told him so and he believed.

He came back from the killing fields
to log the dark green hills
until the trees were gone.
He cleaned out curbs and culverts
for a pittance in part time jobs
to bolster free enterprise and capitalism.

“It’s all good” they said with a leer
and what could he do but believe?

He doesn’t remember much of that
and really, what does it matter now?
the rich got richer and died,
the dead remain dead
and he’s got his place
behind four loosened cement bricks
under a forgotten embankment
where he hides his “Precious”
and keeps a mouldy sleeping bag,
drinks, sleeps and feeds his nightmares
of bullets and blood,
of flames that roast flesh,
of screams of pain and terror:
the voices of the dead
his last remaining friends.

It’s time to work the streets again,
push the rusty cart with the squeaky bent wheel
until the angels return again
or the demons, and who’s to know?

He’ll be there again tomorrow
and the day after that
and even after the Great Day
there he will be in his dirty tattered rags
his long stringy hair blowing wildly
in the cold, cold winds that haunt
the endless dirty, drafty, empty city streets

What will his title be
next time I pass him by trying not to notice?

I think I already know this, in my heart
as I look around and ponder this place:
he’ll be the survivor.

21 thoughts on “A Man, a Survivor

    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thank you for your thoughts, Frank. Your eagle eye did not deceive you: there “were” two will’s due to a revision. These were corrected on the final blog post which sits at “ixiocali,com”

      Reply
  1. jim-

    Nicely done Sha’Tara. I wonder why Bezos or another like him doesn’t do something to clean up his hometown across the water from Medina with his $113 billion? Only 1% from a 1%er would do the trick, yet here we are. Powerful and descriptive writ. Thank you

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thank you for the reply, Jim. Bezos and his ilk are mind slaves of the System holding them in an iron mask of meaningless but destructive hoarding. They would build their stairway to heaven but they will have as much success as those who built the famous Babel tower. On the other hand, the Nameless Survivor carries his stairway with him always. We who are of the “In-Between” must choose which side to emulate when given the choice, if given the choice. Most of us are neither Hoarders nor Survivors. We are content to keep our “milk of human kindness” well stirred so the cream doesn’t rise to the top and we don’t have to imbibe the skim. Unless we deliberately, and with malice or compassion aforethought, set ourselves apart, we remain as gossips in the store’s check out queue staring at the surrounding mindless drivel, waiting, always waiting until it’s time to pay.

      Reply
  2. Carol A. Hand

    Such powerful observations and insights, Sha’Tara, and eloquently-told. It brings to mind an experience I shared with an Ojibwe friend who had lived on a reservation most of her life. I took her with me on a trip to Pittsburgh. She would stop whenever she saw a man like the one you described sleeping on a sidewalk, wondering why it was so and wanting to help while others walked by without ever noticing…

    Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thank you for your own observations, Carol. I was raised on a tiny community in northern Alberta, mostly homesteaders and poor farmers and the experience was very similar to being raised on a reservation. Everybody knew everybody else, like a big and dysfunctional family. We noticed things and people doing their thing but one thing we did not have is unknown, “unseen” homeless individuals. So when I came to live near Vancouver (Canada) I was shocked to see in reality what my reading had told me about for there was much awakening of social conscience in the sixties when I was in my teens. The novels and magazine articles suddenly came to life as real people, people who sat on benches, staggered down the streets, coughed and spat and smelled. Behind them was the “gentrified” city of the highrises of the corporations, the banks, the ostentatiously rich. Limousines with tinted windows picked up and delivered these to their doors, and they never had to see, hear or smell that which they walked upon and drove over. I thought then, this will now be rectified. We’re educated and we have TV and radio to remind us of this intolerable injustice. Dreams of youth: things have gotten much, much worse, and “we” have become almost as callous as the rich we despised in our youth. We are the “in-between” and truth be told, would rather look up than down when thinking about the next step.

      Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thanks for that, Roger. Indeed we are in that “eternal” War with those who direct it, those who fight it and those who play the role of civilians, those in-between who would identify with the Survivor but feel obliged to vote for and cheer on the Warbucks, knowing they have the power to cause the mythical good life to happen – even though they never do.

      Reply
      1. deteremineddespitewp

        The one facet of war that every would be banner-waver and tub-thumper would forget is that when they start complete control is lost; there are always unforeseen ramifications or unplanned for events.
        Those who cheer for their forces fighting in a place far away from themselves never consider that one day the War will come hammering on their door.

    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thank you for your thoughts, Regis. It’s taking me a while to touch base with the many comments on the many blogs I follow, but I got here. Thanks again.

      Reply
    1. Sha'Tara Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Neelam. I wish I knew more about Saddam Hussein’s demise. Seems he forgot the cardinal rule that when you agree to become some powerful “emperor’s” lackey, you have to obey the emperor, in this case, the US government and military complex.

      Reply
  3. Hyperion

    A powerful poem of an affliction that has grown to dangerous proportions. The dire conditions of homelessness and the many consequences that follow are in all of the major US cities but worst of all on the west coast of California and in New York. In San Diego and New York alone, it is estimated that ~18,000 people are homeless. The expenditure to accommodate the homeless in Santa Clara California is roughly $520,000,000 a year with the problems associated with homelessness still skyrocketing out of control. This is what happens when citizens demand governments solve people’s social problems. In the U.S, taxpayers pay about $40,000 to $50,000 per homeless person in taxes. America has finally decided that the war is lost and the cost is unsustainable and turning a blind eye is the new approach. Wait, what? we pay $40K to $50K per homeless person a year? What does this smell like to you? If we paid $100,000 a year would homelessness disappear? No, it would get worse because we don’t address the root causes of homelessness and there is no viable safety net for them although there are plenty of social and private services they are overwhelmed and ineffective, often causing more harm than good. So, we have a problem with no current solution and the pocketbooks are drawing tighter because money doesn’t seem to solve the problem and throwing kitchen sinks is hard and they don’t fly very far. What is the primary request across the nation from the homeless? “Leave us alone. We like it this way.” Truth. So the problem seems a difference of opinions in lifestyles and sanitation.

    Reply
  4. Sha'Tara Post author

    Canada has a almost decent safety net of basic survival for those who learn to manage their scant resources so the vast majority of homeless I encounter here are there because of some addiction, where the body has taken over from the mind and all it wants is its next fix. For that, there is no solution, none. Most are just too far gone and it seems both, the homies and the establishment has a sort of unspecified agreement to just leave them alone, indeed. When they break in and steal some of your stuff for resale it’s easier to just go buy a replacement than report it or claim it. Usually it’s just stupid stuff anyway. Some time ago it was decided by the powers that be that discipline was no longer the correct way to bring up children, so these once upon a time children fell to their own devices as how to embrace a life they could not avoid. Well, predictably they chose the easy way in. Life had to be entertaining; life had to be fun, consequences be damned… what consequences? They saw how the rich lived and they emulated that however they could. Drugs became an exponential way of feeding the illusion that life did not demand any personal responsibility for anything, including building up to some kind of responsible future. Result: expanding homelessness, and my sincere apologies to those who are legitimately homeless due to unforeseeable and unavoidable circumstances.

    Reply

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