Homeless in Venice

Some of these poems were presented at a poetry gathering organized by Beyond Baroque Literary Foundation in front of a “poetry wall” in Venice Beach, California, March 3rd, 2000. [In Persian]

“This land punched-in, cuffed-out, divided,
Held like a crucifix in a deathhand.”
— From “Crucifix in a Deathhand” by Charles Bukowski [1]

I. The Nobodies
The city breathes in and out
And exhales the nobodies.
Mothers point at them
Warning their unruly kids
Employers, their employees.
Everybody is somebody
And they are no-bodies:
Mindless, jobless and homeless.
They are sitting on the ground
Waiting in the dark.
February 22, 1986

II. Trash Can
A haven for the homeless
And Providence of their sustenance.
A communal life in the alleys
With leftovers from private homes.
Happy the one who said:
“The new is born out of the old”.
Ah, trash can!
In any revolt
They change you into a bunker.
April 4, 1986

III. The Hungry in Venice Beach
They’re standing in the line
The hungry in the morning
In front of Jesus Christ
And his truckload of bread.
“The addicts receive nothing!
The addicts receive nothing!”
The crowd yawns
And the sea gulls
Make a cross over them.
August 7, 1986

IV. Watts Tower [2]
Let us make a monument
In our town
Like the tower of Watts.
Let us find empty bottles in all colors
Shape them, polish them and erect
A house for the homeless.
Greave not if our lot from the splendors of this age
Is nothing but an empty bottle of wine.
Let us make a toast
To our monument.
September 8, 1987

V. She Was Short of Something
She said:
“You got fifty cents?”
And laughed
She was short of one dime
And wanted to go to Venice beach.
She came from the Philippines
Looking for a job
And laughter punctuated
Her every other word.
When she was getting off
I saw her torn skirt
But her beautiful long fingers
Could not cover her white thigh.
February 19, 1991

VI. Hassan, the Woodcutter
I am Hassan, the woodcutter
With the smiling sun on my shoulders
And the crying rain in my ears.
Running in the muddy alleys
I come from Isfahan
Barefoot and half-naked
With two dancing axes on my back
And the passion of a madman:
Two-legged animal
Get up
And find a new life
Like the chips of this old trunk.”
March 5, 1991

VII. Heart of the House
He is the heart of my house
The man who sleeps down there
In the empty carport.
Every night
He wakes me with his snoring.
It palpitates like a giant heart
Pumping blood
To the capillaries of the whole wall.
I look at the closed eyes of my son
And ask myself:
Is he a member of my family?”
In the morning
I am awoke by his coughing
He collects empty cans
And walks away with his wailing cart.
February 13, 1995

VIII. The Magic Cape
Running toward the beach
I saw her on the stairs
lying at the last landing
And a rusty cart separated her from the world.
I asked myself: “Is it a woman? … Is it a man?
Or a puppet full of straw?”
She wore a black hat
And a large winter coat
Covered with a white blanket
Like that of my little niece.
She always sucked it through her teeth
And sometimes put it on
Like a magic cape.
When did she leave her house?
Was it raining that night?
Did someone walk her to the door
Or was she alone?
Did she bang the door with a shout
Or creep out of it slowly?
Did she go to find a new world
Or want to give up forever?
Why did she leave her castle
To barricade behind this cart?
When I returned
I did not see her.
Perhaps she was wearing
Her magic cape.
May 8, 1996

IX. Edna [3]
Some times I see her
Passing by
Wearing a long skirt
She leans on a metal walker
Scratching the ground:
“Sir! What day is today?”
I say: “Jeudi”
And sometimes: “Donnerstag”
Because I know
That Edna had fled Germany
And married in Paris
she passes by me
Like the heavy train of victims
Leaving behind their voices
Out of the reach of time.
February 16, 1997

x. The Endless War
Here he comes
With heavy footsteps
As if he is in an army parade
Or a commander in a battlefield
Visiting the barricades.
He opens the lid of every barrel
And lifts every garbage bag
With his long staff,
And picks up the war spoils
With his other hand:
Perhaps this bottle of wine
Had served a young couple,
Or this fragrant box of pizza
Brought a small family together,
Or this Morrison’s[4] broken disk
Sung incessantly:
“On a Venice canal”.
Here he comes
Wearing no backpack
Or star on his shoulderboard
From an endless war
Fought in the back-alleys
Between the homeless and happy homes.
January 6, 2005

XI. To a Snail
Ah, little wanderer!
Were you not afraid of my big foot
Crushing you?
Last night, in the rain
You crept into my sneaker
To find shelter
You return to your green birthplace
And I am jealous
December 2, 1998

[1] Charles Bukowski (1920-94) Poet of the homeless in Los Angeles. He is one of the poets whose work is etched into a wall by the city in Venice Boardwalk. I lived in Venice for seven years as can be seen in my book, Poems of Venice, published in Persian, 1991. Some of these poems were included in my first collection of poems in English, Muddy Shoes published by Beyond Baroque Books in 1999. A stanza of my poem, “Ah Los Angeles” is etched into a wall by the city at Boardwalk-Brooks.

[2] A national landmark in the district of Watts, Los Angeles, built by the Italian immigrant construction worker, Simon Rodia, decorated with “found objects” like bottles. This district was the scene of an uprising in 1965.

[3] I changed the name of my character to “Edna” in memory of my Jewish friend Edna Sabet who was executed in winter 1982, Tehran.

[4] Jim Morrison (1943-71) The Bohemian singer of “The Doors” who lived in Venice for a while. A fragment of his poem is etched into a wall by the city in Venice Boardwalk.

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