Homeless–Poetry Potluck

Homeless Veteran on the streets of Boston, MA

Image via Wikipedia

Submitted to dVerse OLN. This was previously posted for Poetry Potluck.  As I re-read it, I see there’s work to be done on meter, but I hope the message reaches home. At this time of the year, I’m so aware of homelessness. This morning, walking the dogs along the river, I ran across a couple of homeless men. I understand that they often set up campsites down by the Truckee, under the overpass. Earlier, it was 21 degrees.





Walking down the road I saw a man in tattered clothes.
I couldn’t help but wonder what had led to his defeat.
Tell me, if you would, about this life that you have chosen,
or did it choose you to live like this, upon the street?

I handed him a buck or two and said, “Here, take a seat.”
It was a rusted old park bench on which we hunkered in to meet.
You’re curious, my boy, he said, why do you want to know?
I want to understand you, sir, to see what makes you so.

That money that I gave to you, I know you’ll give to others.
I wonder, how do you survive while giving to your brothers?
A smile broke across the wrinkled landscape of his face,
the pain I’d seen inside his eyes seemed suddenly erased.

You may not really want to hear the story I will tell,
it happened many years ago in a place not far from hell.
The name you’ve heard—‘twas Auschwitz, a camp they took us Jews
the horrors that surrounded me tempted me to choose

to take my own life ere they could subject me to a death
without the grace of dignity. I was so eager to go.
But then some words came tumbling from the darkness of my mind
Words spoken by a holy man I heard in years behind.

The teacher’s voice was strong, it traveled straight into the core
of all I understand of God, of what we’re living for.
Do you know how much good can be done in Auschwitz late at night?
How hope can be a gift to those who tremble in their fright?

And what I learned back then—the truths that saved me from despair—
I carry them within my soul, there’s so much need to care.
So I refuse to see my life as a symbol of defeat.
Do you know how much good, my son, awaits me in that street?

The old man stood and shook my hand and left me with his smile
I sat, transfixed, upon that bench for quite a while.
Now I withhold my judgment when I see a homeless guy
and wonder still at wealth within that money cannot buy.

The anecdote related in this poem is derived from a story related by Rabbi Schlomo Carlebach. I read it in “The Oracle of Kabbalah” by Richard Seidman. This book deals with the hidden meaning underlying the Hebrew Aleph Beit.

67 thoughts on “Homeless–Poetry Potluck

  1. Becky says:

    Love this… I have written a few flash fiction pieces about a homeless man I keep seeing. Thank you for sharing this.


  2. Laurie Kolp says:

    Such a beautiful, heartwarming story, Victoria.


  3. ayala says:

    Gorgeous. My father and his family survived the holocaust . He saw things no child should see. He was an amazing man that loved life even though he went through so much. Great write, Victoria.


  4. The truth of the Universe: –pay it forward; cast your bread on the water; lead by example, nothing given, nothing gained; these are so miraculously true. Yet this story transcends that miracle coming out of the pit of all evils, & like the story of Anne Frank ascends to what inspires us, and keeps us from jumping from windows or driving off cliffs. Excellent Victoria..always true to your voice that rings so clear the “good” that binds us.


  5. hedgewitch says:

    Hope is free, freely given, costs nothing to share, and keeps us from every worst thing, especially despair. This reminded me of the myth of Pandora’s box.


  6. Emma says:

    Wonderful, Victoria. I am always amazed by the resilience and willingness to give of those who have endured great suffering. It’s a lesson we should all take to heart…give even when you need…love even when your love is not returned or rewarded. It’s awful that people must live this way in a country that is so prosperous. Thanks for sharing.


  7. Heaven says:

    Very meaningful share….I do wonder at times what goes behind their lives…..thanks for sharing this ~


  8. vivinfrance says:

    Powerful poem of universal relevance. . Not much wrong with the meter – the occasional blip easily sorted: eg in stanza 4, ‘persuaded’ instead of ‘tempted’ would keep the rhythm going.


  9. claudia says:

    this is awesome… the key line for me is.. Do you know how much good can be done in Auschwitz late at night?… this stands for the good things done all over the world in the most ugly places and under the most ugly circumstances and sometimes by those you would least expect it.. love this victoria


  10. jenneandrews says:

    extremely moving, Victoria– much to ponder and take to heart in this poem. xxxj http://parolavivace.blogspot.com


  11. tinkwelborn says:

    narrative poem with a strong message.

    what to do? what to do?

    tough piece to digest.

    when I retired from the corporate world, I decided I’d sign up for the 2010 census to see what a different job was like (it was temporary, of course); and I was an enumerator not only for quarters (university dorms, frat & sorority houses), but also for homeless tent cities, soup kitchens, etc. …It’s a different world the homeless live in. distrustful of those not within their clique, I found many (maybe most) dysfunctional and rebellious. A rough lifestyle, and one (like quicksand) hard to escape from.


  12. manicddaily says:

    We live in a world where wonder and difficulty (horror, really) can go hand in hand, as you describe. k.


  13. dark and moving topic.

    well done.

    during holiday seasons, the homeless are of major concerns.


  14. brian miller says:

    this is a beautiful piece victoria…it tugs my heart strings i figure i am always a decision away you know…the homeless do that to me…i used to go eat lunch with them when we lived in baltimore…i talk to them down town now when i serve at the soup kitchen…they all have stories…if we are willing to stop and listen or even just touch the life of another…perfect for this season…


  15. aka_andrea says:

    What a touching tale, especially during this holiday season when we all need to think about eachother and giving of ourselves.


  16. Steve King says:

    A very strong work, taking on something that is before us all. It’s also the right time of year to issue this reminder. This piece is art at work. Excellent writing.


  17. An amazing tale, such a well thought story. Goes back to ‘never judge a book by it’s cover.’ Wonderful food for thought too. Thank you for sharing this, Victoria.


  18. Scent of my heart says:

    I’m happy I found this through Jamie’s blog, Victoria. A subject so popular today … and sad that is. For no one should be homeless, no one should sleep alone on the streets, whatever the reasons …


  19. short poems says:

    This was really touching poem…well done 🙂


  20. Beautiful poem. There is a special place in my heart for the homeless.

    The more I experience life, the less judgmental of others I become. I no longer believe a homeless person is there by his own fault. There is culpability in all of us on many counts. Why should I be blessed and he/she not so? There is only one answer, the mercy and grace of God. As long as I live, I’ll pray into the lives of others the mercy and grace I’ve been shown. Blessings to you…


  21. I love your take on the theme and the story behind the poem. Thank you!


  22. mairmusic says:

    great write! I love story poems!


  23. hannah says:

    Love the poem and the story it holds. There’s an elegance about the writing that really captivated me.


  24. Olivia says:

    Heartfelt n touching!
    I have been tricked out of my home a couple of times already! I know the sadness of being un-sheltered well!

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece here!
    hugs xx


  25. Chimnese says:

    this was a sad piece but its true, what drove them to this life, was it by chance or was it what they chose to do..
    here is my Poetry Pluck :http://mypoetrywriting.blogspot.com/2011/02/africa-my-home.html


  26. trisha says:

    i think its one of your most beautiful poems victoria. that man is richest person in this world.



  27. seabell says:

    And it’s a nice gesture to think “homeless” this weak…


  28. lolamouse says:

    Beautiful and inspiring poem. Thank you for writing it.


  29. pamela says:

    Victoria, we do not know what goes on beyond what we see.
    I am from New York and have seen homeless people all my
    life. In the `80’s it was the worst, Reagan released all uninsured
    patients from state institutions. I used to give money to a man,
    who obviously was mentally handicapped. It has always bothered
    me to see people with no place to live.
    It is something that has left a huge impression on me, throughout
    my life.


    • It actually began in the late 60’s. I was nursing in a facility in Richmond, VA at the time when they dumped all these people onto the streets. We received a number of them but many would not stay. When I was a student nurse doing my psychiatric rotation we had 5000 patients (at Patton State Hospital in San Bernadino, CA). So many of them were diagnosed as “simple schizophrenics” basically meaning that they we not able to survive outside a structured environment. This isn’t even addressing the whole issue of drug and alcohol abuse. Of course, after Vietnam the numbers surged and then they did the budget thing again. Now the numbers are affected by the economy. Where will it end?


  30. Bodhirose says:

    This was so very touching and beautiful, Victoria. We really can never know what lies within a person just by looking at them. Thank you for a very gracious reminder. xoxo


  31. Kim Nelson says:

    Your work here touched me. I have loved ones with serious mental illness who have, thank goodness, been medically compliant and well for some time. But whenever I meet someone living on the street I make every effort toward respect and dignity, knowing I would want that for my own, should they ever be there.


  32. souldipper says:

    Victoria, this is medicinal. “There’s so much need to care”. The love that fuels the teachings that provided hope when an exhausted body only wants to rest. It comforts me to know that the souls who performed their nightly miracles were provided with God-given energy.


  33. kolembo says:

    Read with rapt attention. ‘…Do you know how much good can be done in Auschwitz late at night?…’ Thought you might want to look at something I found by Titirangistoryteller;


  34. I heard Mr. BoJangles on the radio the other day. Alawys makes me think, that tune. We just never know how a homeless person got to where they are.

    Very deep and fine piece of writing.

    So great to find your blog via Leslie Moondust Writer.


  35. ladynimue says:

    Thank you for sharing this story ..

    “wealth within that money cannot buy.”

    These are such inspiring words … such is wealth worth amassed …


  36. Carl says:

    Wonderful and inspiring poem. This leaves me with the strong feeling that home is inside of us regardless of the forms that surround us. This is a beautiful reflection.


  37. tigerbrite says:

    A ‘wealth within that money cannot buy’.
    Such wealth within the Kabbalah.
    Magnificent poem.


  38. Lyn says:

    Magical..and full of hope..yet one still shudders just to see the word, Holocaust! And believe it or not, homeless still sleeping on sidewalks, around the corner…Park Av….


  39. Jessica says:

    That’s a very moving story told within a poem. Beautiful.



  40. fiveloaf says:

    you showed alot of effort to ensure every line. word and meaning is correct- love it liv and i salute you! my potluck.. http://fiveloaf.wordpress.com/2010/06/04/metamorphosis/


  41. Sina Saberi says:

    very nicely done 🙂


  42. Sam says:

    Victoria…This is absolutely amazing…


  43. Aleza says:

    I appreciate this on many levels. People are so quick to complain about their own living situation, or about the “things” they don’t have. Everyone should have to walk in someone else’s shoes.


  44. Mike Patrick says:

    Lovely, one would be hard pressed to find any Auschwitz survivors now. They would have had to been very young. Still, I read about a female survivor just a few days ago.


  45. Very heavy subject matter, but dealt with masterfully. Horrific to think about what we do to each other when we think we’ve been given license by ideology or even simple responsibility. Excellent job conveying the sadness of lost hope & humanity.



  46. Melissa says:

    Such things as this told through the lines of poetry ring with the emotion of a poets pen. Thank you for sharing


  47. Such a beautiful story, so sacred, and so beautifully retold here by you. THANK YOU for telling it so elegantly.


  48. bendedspoon says:

    rich poem story 🙂


  49. Jingle says:

    I carry them within my soul, there’s so much need to care.
    So I refuse to see my life as a symbol of defeat.
    Do you know how much good, my son, awaits me in that street?…

    this is fundamental themed piece, divine poetry.


  50. danroberson says:

    The poor often have treasures in their hearts. They share what they have, more than expected. They know hard times and wish to relieve others of pain.


  51. Cheryl says:

    Victoria, what a beautiful sentiment. Hope, grace, faith. All wrapped in the beauty of words. Beautifully done, my friend.


  52. cloakedmonk says:

    A wonderful story/poem. Just this morning, on my way to church, I passed a homeless woman holding a sign “restore my hope in humanity…just 25 cents.” That was one I couldn’t resist. I stopped and gave her money. She stood there like a statue and my heart broke for her. She was so young.

    Ack, I ramble on. Your poem provoked me. Thanks.


  53. Galaxian says:

    The Nazi regime in Germany 1933-1945 and its massive atrocities are unfortunately being forgotten as this time period passes from living memory. This needs to be remembered very well, especially by those dabbling in or entertaining new forms of Nazism, lest the whole thing be repeated.


  54. I’m so pleased you takled this subject and partnered it with the holocaust. When I was working in social services, I actually met people who had an attitude much like that described here and who had no sense of hopelessness or helplessness about them. They had not only dignity, but grace. It seemed a great offense when the city decided on zero-tolerance. Of course, they didn’t succeed. Just made a lot of trouble.

    P.S. – the kabala makes for a fine study.

    This is a precious poem. Please let me know if I may reblog it on Musing by Moonlight, all links, credits and appropriate copyright attache.

    Thanks, Victoria.

    Peace and Hugs,


  55. Kavita says:

    That was a moving read, Victoria.. and it holds so much in it… The message – no matter what, be good to another – is beautifully spanned across in the poem…
    Here we are, sitting in our cozy living rooms, and still complaining about the cold outside… but just a look at about this man not having much and yet helping another, really makes me realize how much I have to learn from him…

    A very beautiful read, my friend.. a great way for me to start my potluck reading!! Thanks for this fine piece…


  56. marousia says:

    Strong narrative poem


  57. marousia says:

    Lovely narrative poem


  58. A.B. Thomas says:

    His story has an aura of hopelessness yet heavily tinged wtih dignity. Excellent write. Sounds like a fine piece of reading material that you used to create such a divine write!


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