The Dark Night of the Streets
The Homeless Psalms of San Juan de la Cruz
Centuries ago, there was a little man, a poet, a Carmelite friar, named John of the Cross. While in prison for his holy daring, he composed the poetry of his "Dark Night of the Soul." Together with his dear Friend, Teresa, later called the Saint of Avila, they envisioned an ecstatic communion / community with the Divine Beloved. They loved: they suffered much: they persevered.
Many, many years later, I felt the divine necessity to pursue a life of intense meaning and service: without knowing the inevitable costs involved. With a few friends, we began a "Catholic Worker" House, and making sandwiches for the hungry and homeless: beginning a thirty-year life of a broken-hearted love. Over a modern-day trail of tears, we did some incredible things: but mostly we learned about the necessity of surrender: and we fell in love over and over again.
Eventually, we became sister / brother with the Broken Lives on the Chinatown Streets: along the way, we discovered that we were the ones who were being served... we discovered that we were -- exactly like the homeless -- living with a mess of broken hearts: more, as Leonard Cohen said, "There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in". The mystics and the mentally ill surprised me every day on the street. Eventually, I took to carrying what became a ragged-book of Poems by St. John of the Cross. Together, John and I, listened to the ramblings of the homeless and wove their broken prayers into a re-writing of his poems and the Psalms of David... and they are all essential to the book "Resplendent In Rags"...
Over the coming weeks, each of the poems in "Dark Night of the Street" will be copied here for your contemplation and consideration, along with occasional commentary...
The Dark Night of the Street
1. On a dark night, afraid
And lonely as the last of a specie,
I surrendered my soul
(Who am I?)
In the gutter of a dreaming love...
2. In the dark, where the rats
Are sized like small dogs,
(Who am I?)
I sit on the curb, concealed
And homeless in the broken Light...
3. In the homeless night,
I am a secret I keep from myself,
I am the stranger unseen,
With not even hope for sunrise:
Just this naked burning in my chest...
4. This burning is what guides me
In the stutter and single breath
Of the Light of the Moon: I see
The One of my solitary dreams
On the street, when everyone else is sleeping...
5. O burning that eats away my mind!
O night brighter than noonday sun!
This night has ripped my soul apart,
And left but a remnant of self:
In the waiting arms of the Beloved!
6. On my barren chest
(Except for the Rose tattoo above my heart)
She fell asleep in my arms,
And I caressed Her till morning came,
With the breeze of the passing trucks...
7. The breeze of the open road,
While I kept thinking of Her,
Was cold upon my face, but forsaken
No longer, I lifted my head
In the suspension of both Faith and Hope...
8. I walked and completely forgot my name,
Then I sat and gazed again into Her fathomless eyes:
There was now no road, not even an abandonment,
Leaving my backpack,
I was forgotten, amid the flowers there...
O Terrifying Warming Grate
1. O Terrifying Warming Grate
Upon which I spread my single blanket,
I am numb, not from the cold
And not from fear, but from a surety
Settling into my bones: You are foreign,
Made somewhere, maybe China...
2. O Frozen Warmth!
O orgasm of endless pain!
O filthy nails to convey
Your careless touch, is this eternal
Life without redemptive candy?
What has this world to do without Home?
3. O Blinking Street-Light,
In whose blink
I seem to exist,
That which formerly shone brilliant and bright,
Now with a wrapping wraith of yellow vapor
Turn to look another way...
4. Footfalls approach
And I scream them into a wide circle,
But You secretly drop a flower
Into my empty hat: I hear You breathing
And I could die but choose instead to laugh
Into the delicacy of Your tears...
Damn it all to hell -- not
That I actually believe in such a place --
More and more it seems this world is nuts!
Is there any help coming our way?
I don't pack a gun -- and my knife
Is for slicing cheese -- when I can afford it.
I cry out (in my mind)
But I hear no answer of what might be Love.
Where shall I lie down to sleep?
If I close my eyes in this town
I might never open them again...
But the mission is closed and its miles until dawn...
Awaken, my heart!
Stir my soul with Your right hand!
I'll save my curses for the oppressor and rapist:
But from You I do expect an eventual blessing!
My Love, will You come to me if I call?
My exhaustion and depression are rotting my soul!
Most days I expect nothing: today must be different!
I pull yesterday's news from a garbage can
And sit with my back to the sun -- no I don't want
Ketchup with the cold fries I recovered as well...
I stop reading to consider Your Divine Possibilities:
Perhaps Love is the work of Your Quantum Mechanic
Working at the furthest end of the Universe...
I can't buy a night of meditation, and this
Cardboard doesn't soften the rocks pressing into my back,
Does it matter at all that I am thinking of You?
When morning comes, will happiness be in sight?
Seriously, I can't hold out for that! But it would be sweet
If I had a moment of Your Big Compassion -- and a beer for my health...
Who would have thought my being homeless could provoke
Such rage in those young men? As they pummeled me with their fists,
They kept invoking Your Holy Name -- as did I -- so who did You hear?
I have no strength to shoulder my pack again: should I just lie here
In the gutter? My soul feels robbed of what dignity You gave it...
I turn my body into the curb, and pray for the courage to pull myself
And my pack somewhere behind those dark bushes... now would be
A good time for You to help me: a car stops. A passenger jumps out.
I say that I just want to hide in those bushes and sleep: he carries me,
And leaves me money to buy food tomorrow: Divinity is back! Thank You!
In You, my Love, I find my shelter!
I hope, today, to be free from everyone's rage
And my own bitterness -- which seems as a lion
About to carry me off to shred for a happy meal...
Unlike the psalms of old, I cannot wish pain on anyone:
"Enough already!" is my daily prayer... although sometimes
When I see an old homeless woman with no teeth, I also pray
That You and someone else will remember... and hold her.
Does the news ever really change? I'm sitting here holding
My breakfast cup of coffee and reading an abandoned paper,
And it still reads as if the billionaire has no thoughts for the poor,
For his workers, for justice, or for You: so tell me, can You be bought?
But it also says in those same psalms of old, that You hear
The dreams and sighs of the small, that You give strength to their failing
Limbs, and that You will re-create everything as a feast
For the little ones and the exploited of the world: so why not now?
O Beloved One!
I have too many temptations to add the one
That would call You 'great'!
And that thing about Your Name:
'Mighty Fortress against our foes', so
The ancient saying goes: but I prefer a different prayer:
Like, 'Down-Bringer of our Walls', and
'Sacred Bridge for our Immigrant Feet' please
Welcome us all Home...
When I sit in the shadows
And closely examine the yellow insignificant dandelion,
I see You as the Big Dog chased by the Humble Lamb...
When I crumble in exhaustion
And ease my pack beneath my head,
I see You as the Gentle Breeze kissing my ragged face, like
The naked lover of my dreams: She has never stared at me
With utter revulsion in Her eyes: instead, She smiles and leads me
Into Her: to thrust away my knowing unworthiness and separation:
World without end!
Angels gather to dance on the barbed wire -- as if
The rich man could keep them out!
Glory is kindness, honor is gentleness: the rest
As if there never was a Fall!
My feet are blistered and sore, my shoes a wreck!
Cardboard will again be my bed tonight -- behind this dumpster --
I will sing for Your glance,
I will jump and dance -- even if they cart me away!
You are such a Beautiful Little Speck in this wondrous Universe!
Ah, in my dream, I relax in Your beauty, like in a California spa
Serving those with no money: and maybe short of everything else
But their human dignity: we all kick back and put up our feet.
Of every possibility: You bring the oil, and You massage
Like the perfect lover You could be -- if You wanted to...
Outside, the billionaires gather and grumble: they
Try to buy the place, they offer stunning sums, they insist
It will be an upgrade, what with all the riff-raff hanging about.
They send in their accountants, their reporters, their singers,
And finally, they buy the government, and send in their soldiers...
But if the Spa-of-the-Earth is sold, where will the world's poor go?
Are there enough garbage dumps for all of us?
Where are You now that the sign has been changed?
Are You on some lonely, holy, mountain?
You haven't taken us with You, so I can only suppose...
I've heard it said that You probe us and know us:
Well, I could stick a few probes for You -- save You the trouble!
Okay, if You don't really like violence, then why are we so oppressed?
Besides, I would be willing to use plenty of lubricant to ease the way,
There doesn't have to be a burning blast -- just a continuous shove.
It is said that You are the One
It really is about time to let us see Your face!
Hoist Your flag!
I saw the campfire from the highway, causiously
I approached, calling out if there was coffee for the asking:
Hearing the welcome callin, I thought "You Lord should be
So gracious." "No thanks, just coffee" to the question of whiskey.
Pulling my tin cup from my pack, I pour myself a steaming brew,
And sit back to wonder at my hosts: "Damn", I think, "homeless
Soldiers still fighting a distant war." I say, "Damn good coffee."
The one called Jack throws a quote from Limbaugh. I think, "Shit."
Silently, I recall a wisdom line that says "Everyone lies; with
Flattering lips they speak from a double heart." Silently, I mutter
"Yeah, and some of those lips are paid millions to slander and
Deceive. And old homeless soldiers will believe their every word."
I finish my coffee and make to leave. One vet says I can share
Fire for the night. I say I want some more miles on the road
Before I sleep. Jack says, "You know, we could track you."
I say, "I gutted a ghost near Paso Robles once. Funny, it died again."
Shouldering my pack, I bid adios, and then disappeared... east, double
Back, cross a creek back and forth, then south for a mile or so:
Jack could probably track, his whiskey probably couldn't. Time was
All I wanted, that and the coming of the Lord: enough of this shit.
(to be continued)