I once watched as a dread-locked man pushed a derelict shopping cart through Honolulu, overflowing with things most of us would call trash. These were his belongings, and among them was a piece of cardboard scribbled upon with a black sharpie. It was a poem — in progress. I could only catch a sentence or two as I ambled by, so close to his fate that I could barely breathe from the emotion it churned in me. “This could be me,” I caught myself thinking as I hurried to my next appointment down a street with too many syllables to pronounce.
I’ve also watched in shock as a woman in Mumbai, India, picked up sewage-laden popcorn off a city street to feed it to her wailing baby. This too, hit me in the gut. I had already given all my rupees to a gang of street children who had hollered ‘back-sheesh, back-sheesh’ to me, the rich-looking foreigner traversing through their homeland heretofore unfettered by visions of five-year-olds living completely alone on the streets. I had spied them near temples, near durghas, and choking the railway stations. Three small boys once squatted together on a muddy road comparing their excrement and giggling at the odd shapes they had made.
I’ve never actually been homeless, but I’ve teetered on the very edge of not having a place to go, to lay my head with a small child many, many times. Likely it was an experience I signed up for before arriving here on earth, in order to have compassion for the many million homeless and hungry in America, and the billions more around the world who live with far less than I do today, every day.
The face of homelessness hasn’t changed much over time. Veterans, college-educated individuals, and those working full-time jobs are among them. In other countries, they are most often the result of war, colonization, and financial tyranny. Many people who find themselves without a place to live and decent food to eat are children. From Phoenix, Arizona, to Athens, Greece, people sleep on the street. Not knowing where to go next, 60% of them are suffering from depression. Often they resort to pharmaceutical drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of being so dehumanized.
With 50 percent of global wealth in the hands of less than 1 percent of the world’s entire population, it seems unfathomable that so much pain exists, and is endured by so many people. It is from this perspective that I commissioned some art from a man who reached out to me in an email, that I have never met.
He didn’t ask for a hand out. In fact, he simply wanted to offer thanks from his tablet off of skid-row, for some advice he had read in an article about how to chelate mercury. The prose which he sent to me more appositely explains the tribulations we all face than anything I could journalistically describe. Following is his composition:
Skid Row Mocha
By: Joshua Knight
Okay, so I was in this coffee shop near skid row
able to afford a coffee with the last few bucks in my pocket,
staying in a shelter around the corner on San Pedro Street
(Skid Row basically),
when I thought about my predicament.
It wasn’t good.
I had 8 more days left in the mission then I was expected to find some other place to sleep.
I’d been homeless for almost a year now.
I had a college degree.
I’d taught English around the world for 7 years.
“Now look at me,” I mumbled–tears in my eyes.
Right then a fight broke out inside the coffee shop–an older, Mexican security guard and a young black guy.
They did the right thing and took it outside.
The walls of this coffee shop were glass so I watched on.
The black kid started shouting and claiming the guard was out of line.
Then the guard grabbed the black kid from behind his head and tried to bring him down.
It didn’t work.
Right then the police arrived–their patrol car parked on the side of the coffee shop–red lights swirling.
The cops immediately jumped out of their vehicle, grabbed the black kid and cuffed him, as he seemed to be still out of control
about to attack.
Then they put him in the back of their patrol car and drove off.
Whatever crowd was watching dispersed.
A half hour later some Hispanic kid (around 23, a little smaller than me) asked me if I could plug in his device. “I’d do it,” he said, “but I don’t want to get too close to your nuts.”
I chuckled then scowled smelling the booze.
It wasn’t even 2 in the afternoon.
Fuck it–I plugged in his device, as he sat in the stool next to me.
He started watching some videos on Low Riders on his tablet.
“I’m going to a Low Rider’s Show tonight,” he told me.
I smirked. “Nah, I’ve got shit to do.”
“Oh yeah? Like sit in a coffee shop?”
I sniggered. “I’m working on a book.”
“Let me read something. I bet it’s a piece of crap. You wouldn’t be in here if it wasn’t?”
The kid was starting to get on my nerves.
But I felt a little sorry for him. He seemed to have a lot of problems.
So I looked for a poem I’d written and came upon the story of my brother punching me in the back when we were kids and me chasing him upstairs and knocking his bedroom door off its handles.
But the kid was so drunk he didn’t want to read it.
He made some insult again and kept it going until I finally took off my glasses, stood up and faced him, my cane off to the side.
He was taken back.
Right then other people from the cafe got involved and broke it up and kicked the kid out.
I sat back down and checked my email.
There it was, an email from this woman who wrote this amazing site on health and detoxing and recovering the spirit from an ongoing attack of the Death Star.
She’d agreed to send me some cash (using Western Union) for a narrative poem she’d be able to post on her website as long as it described a white horse and a cage and fireworks and some Dali-esque images.
I sat there at the counter facing the coffee shop glass and thought about everything that had happened here in the last hour or so. Then I thought about LA and all the cities across America and the world and knew there was an uprising of angst taking place — an uprising of the coming global tyranny.
You can just feel it, I thought, suddenly picturing a human heart exploding into fireworks, imagining myself riding a giant white horse galloping over the tallest bank into the horizon of the blue horizon.
Then I looked out the glass window of the coffee shop seeing a very large crowd gathered outside and several cops standing about the street–police cars parked in the middle of the road blocking traffic.
There were working people out there.
I thought, the thousands of jobs listed on the web are just illusions to hide the economic depression the country has fallen into.
I knew that.
But the zombies, I thought, have no idea Darth Vader is keeping the white horse caged.
Please contact the author to support Joshua’s next commissioned work.
Image credit: NPR.org
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