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  • When I was homeless, I ate crusts of bread tossed to pigeons
    and garbage dug from trashcans and some days nothing.
    In the summer, I ate the food left behind at sidewalk cafes,
    avoided begging until I couldn't, hated scornful looks.
    One man bought me pizza slice so I wouldn't turn his dollar
    into booze. I didn't drink, but no point telling him that;
    he wouldn't listen.

    For weeks, after my shoes were stolen, I left a bloody trail
    until, on broken sidewalks and shattered glass, my feet toughened.
    I slept in piss-scented alcoves, in the understructure of bridges,
    under abandoned cars. As it got colder, I pressed my fingers
    into my armpits, but my cheeks and toes froze and hard white patches,
    that would not rub warm, blackened, and sloughed off.
    Some cold nights, I slept in Catholic churches, on velvet pews.

    The priests left their sanctuaries open for prayer. I sent up,
    to an absent God, prayers of gratitude for warmth.
    Barefooted and filthy, it was difficult to find a job, but when I did,
    I got a room. I slept on the floor, ate cold canned beans
    and missed the freedom of the streets. Out there, alone,
    and hungry, keeping to myself, no one gave me orders.
    I was the sole master of each empty, tortured day.


    for John Bellinger
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