November 28, 2003
Among the homeless people of my neighborhood, there was a man
and a woman who were very much in love. I would see them
along Geary Street, pushing their belongings in a cart, and the
woman would look very happy and the man would look at peace. They
looked like anybody else. They had their daily affairs
to attend to and they liked attending to them together.
They were not a part of the main groups of homeless people I
would see. They were not part of the group that was often
around the liquor store on 12th Avenue and that sometimes slept
in the park across the street from my house. They were
not part of the group that I would see lying on the grass in
front of the library on sunny days. They were just their
own pair, and they seemed to like it that way and it seemed like
it was enough.
One morning I saw the man standing at a bus stop. He was
wearing clean clothes and his hair was cut and his face shaven. I
almost did not recognize him. But he did not look at peace
like I had always seen him. He looked completely lost. He
looked like he was trying to hold on to something steady in the
middle of a great storm. He was waiting for the bus and
I figured that he had gotten some kind of job, but he did not
look like he knew what the hell that meant. He looked like
he knew that it was something that people did, but that didn't
I wondered if it had to do with the woman. The whole time
that I had seen them, their homelessness was something that he
wore outwardly more than she did. It was in his browned
skin and clear, glassy eyes. It was a look that I had seen
among the men carrying their packs on their shoulders in the
Marina and Tenderloin districts. It was a look that went
with the sun, with the sun of San Francisco and the way that
the moment was everything when you were in it.
I wondered if she had gotten tired of it and she had asked him
to find a job as part of their beginning to get out of it. She
always looked happy with him, but it also seemed that a regular
life with a home and a husband and things like that was
far from her. She didn't look like it was something she
had forgotten about. I could see it in her clean, rosy
face and her good, warm clothes.
If he was waiting at the bus stop like that for her, for their
life together, I thought that was beautiful. He looked
like a poet all the other times I had seen him, like
a poet towards every part of life except money, and now at the
bus stop he looked like he was trying to go without that poetry,
for some money, and I knew he really loved her.
I didn't see either the man or the woman for a while. And
then one day I saw the man sitting in the park with the woman
who used to ask for change in front of Cal-Mart. She was
part of the 12th Avenue crowd. I used to see her in front
of Cal-Mart back when I worked full-time at the school and I
would talk to her about her life. Once I had brought some
of the kids down and had her talk to them about life, and she
had always thanked me for that.
They were sitting in the park and drinking in the early afternoon.
"Hey honey," she called out to me.
"Hello," I yelled.
"Going to the school?"
"That's great, that's great."
I could hear them laughing halfway down the block. They
were having a good time. I had never seen him drinking
before. With the woman with the rosy face, it seemed like
they were always moving, it had seemed like their poverty wasn't
something that kept them outside the world. They would
actually seem more inside the world than anybody, because the
way they looked when they walked together went with things like
dusk and spring, better than anything else I saw among people.
It wasn't the worst thing in the world, I thought. She
had wanted some kind of certainty in their life and he had wanted
some kind of freedom, and so they had gone their separate ways. The
man did look happy sitting there on the grass under the sun.
thought of the last time I had seen the woman he was sitting
with. She had seen me one night on Geary and she had
been telling me that it was a very good thing that I was working
with kids, and then one of the homeless men who knew her had
asked me why I was listening to the words of a heroin addict,
and she had yelled at him and it had been a mess.
Now she was sitting in a way that was womanly and he was sitting
like a man who had all kinds of time stretched out before him,
and it looked like the beginning of a new romance. I hoped
that they enjoyed it, and I thought that I probably shouldn't
be sad about the end of the other relationship if the man didn't
look sad himself.
It was just that with the other woman,
he didn't need a sunny day in the park and I felt certain
that he didn't need alcohol. They had looked like the healthiest
couple in the street to me, like they carried the best parts
of the street with them and did their best with the difficult
The whole thing probably made some kind of statement
about love and how much it was capable of and how much it was
incapable of, but I decided to forget about it and wait until
I learned the thing on my own if I was meant to learn it.
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