Friday, August 25, 2006

Writer's Group: The End

For a year and a half I have helped facilitate a writer's group at the homeless shelter where I work. Mostly what we do is provide space and materials for folks to write, since if you live in public space (shelters, streets, parks) it's hard to find good opportunities to put down all of your stuff and write--not to mention constant noise and the difficulties of even getting pen and paper sometimes.

Today was my last writer's group meeting, and several of the people who are regulars at the group came to say goodbye. It's been amazing to work with these folks, hear their stories, and create some fantastic pieces of writing with them. I have learned so much about teaching and learning, about my own prejudices about poverty. I figured out that this kind of work--working creatively with people who are often voiceless--is what I want to do, and that's been a lovely gift.

One particular man has been coming to group since it started.  He camps in the woods within the city.  Year round.  He is also a very talented writer who is receiving some notice for his work.  He wrote me a very nice letter, and also shared the first draft of a piece he's been working on about dying on the streets. He said I could share/publish it, so I wanted to put a little piece here.

He says in the letter to me, "this poem (eventual performance piece) is dedicated to the man who passed away, earlier this year, under the city's marginal way bus shelter."

The ellipses within the paragraphs are his. The phrase "don't forget to spike the door" is a reference to train-hopping etiquette: before you leave your car, you use a railroad spike to jam the door open so that someone else can climb in.

Finally... Shelter

The police officers stand over my demise. This
empty vessel, God's child; talk into their mikes; move
back the small crowd. Fearful of desecration, one lawman
hurries, runs around the park benches, wrapping crime
scene tape... never in my life... has anyone on the streets...cared
about me, given me this much room to sleep.

I witness an old drinking buddy protest aloud "this
is not a crime scene!" But, oh, it is, old friend. This is a
crime scene. A crime, what I did to myself. The crime, unto
my dear loved ones... and my unholy self. I can... no
more... defend myself. I can not answer. I will not reply.
But, every last one of you know the story, and the crimes.


I could not, would not, defeat the bottle. I would not
surrender the glass of raging spite. Only now, my dear
friends, do I discover I have regained my self esteem. I...
I... I am sorry, my dear friends. It is time for me to take my
leave. I hear the lone, lonesome whistle of a freight train.
Remember, when it is your time. Don't forget to spike the


Patricia Lieb said...

Very interesting essay.
I wish you well in your next teaching venture.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Didn't Maine Public Radio do a piece on that program a while ago? Why did you decide to leave? I'm a nosy bastard, ain't I?

Once, as a seventeen year-old runaway, I slept behind a Dumpster in Portland. Not an experience I'd wish on anyone.


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