Kylyssa Shay was homeless for over a year in her youth; it lead her to become a homelessness activist. She thinks, feels, and has opinions.
Poems Written by a Formerly Homeless Person
Why would anyone write poetry about being homeless?
Homelessness changed the way I saw the world forever. Some of those changes were sad; I learned to fear people I never had before, like policemen, well-dressed teenagers, men in business suits, and all men who got too close. Some few of those changes were hopeful; I lost a lot of my fear of ragged people and strangers for one.
I learned so many counter-intuitive yet profoundly right things that they changed my way of thinking far beyond my fears all the way into my dreams and hopes. They also changed my art, gave it more direction and compassion, more focus and roots. Deprivation and abuse seem like they'd provide little wholesome fertilizer for roots of any kind. It's true that they don't.
There was more than deprivation and abuse in my time unwanted by the prevailing culture; there was an awakening of a more gentle awareness. There came a realization that while the stunted and damaged among us lash out in pain, most people do not. Most people still have a wealth of kindness inside, even after they've been damaged, deprived, beaten, abused, and reviled. They still refuse to accept hatred and brutality as the norm. Some still even give what they haven't got enough of themselves to someone they think needs it more.
Let me share some of the things I learned from behind the oblique glass of poetry that keeps my heart a little safer from the pain of memory.
We are the weed children,
grown from promising seeds of life,
knocked through the cracks
in the cement of society.
Damaged, we still burst and thrust up
into whatever light we can reach.
The rock around us
soaked in toxins meant to destroy us
pushes against us
but we push back against the poisons
and the hardness around us
slowly, but not patiently.
Sickly, but strong in our own way,
many of us outlast the bitterness
dumped upon us.
We may grow twisted and pale,
but we sometimes soften the earth around us
the better to grow fresh seeds
where kindness had once been paved over.
Sometimes even our broken bodies nourish the ground
just enough to give them purchase.
Our only hope is that
slowly, but not patiently
we'll make the concrete over kindness crumble
not because we broke it
with the steady pushing of our lives
but because the foundation beneath
and decided to lift up the seeds of life
until weeds no longer grow,
not because they do not sprout,
but because they have become part of the garden.
by Kylyssa Shay
Behind Four Locking Doors
Sleeping sweat-tacky and rough
on red-brown shredded cypress
near over-dried shaped evergreens,
panthers blending seamlessly
with house cats,
house cats blending seamlessly with panthers.
Raked by the claws of panther-men,
bitten by their teeth,
I could only fantasize a single, formless lock.
It could have been rusted steel,
or a scraped, white-painted brass-toned aluminum knob.
I couldn't even picture it in my mind,
but I yearned for it.
Now painted red steel
keeps people out of the hall,
but just the people who don't belong there.
embellished with a green and brown leaf
and the cut-out number 203
makes sure of that two keys in.
Across the red-brown wood grain vinyl flooring
and over the tan multi-toned carpeting,
down the six foot wide hallway
and to the right,
the colorless door number three
bolts only from the inside.
So long as the first two hold
the third won't be tested
with only safe people behind it.
The fourth door is thin, white and light
it only holds towels.
It locks from the inside, too,
but it's one of those brass-toned
paper-thin aluminum knobs you can open with a penny,
and locks with a concave-centered button in the middle.
It only saves embarrassment
and keeps cats away from the candle
but only when it's lit.
My, how these locks are so fine!
by Kylyssa Shay
When you're lost on the street
one locking door
is the difference between rich and poor.
When you've nothing to eat
one piece of bread
is the difference between hungry and fed.
That’s the difference on the street,
the difference between a pillow and concrete.
When reporting a crime gets a laugh in the face
a living address
is the difference between harassment and justice.
Sleeping two days in a safe place
can feel like home to the homeless.
That's the difference on the street,
a small difference so sweet.
by Kylyssa Shay
© 2015 Kylyssa Shay
Comments on Homelessness, Poetry, or Anything this Page Helped You to Feel.
Kylyssa Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on June 27, 2016:
I think we are viewed as weeds, but that we're just as much a part of the garden as people with homes. That's why the poem ends with those once viewed as weeds thriving in their rightful place in the garden, a garden they and those who came before them helped to create in the first place. I said 'we' even though I've been off the street for over twenty-five years. The only ways I'm different are that I'm fortunate enough to have a greater degree of security and get to sleep indoors every night. And either of those things could change in an instant.
I think living truly homeless is an education no one needs. Human beings aren't made better people by getting raped, beaten, or humiliated just because somebody finds them convenient targets that most of society doesn't care about. No one needs to wake up heart pounding, stomach clenched, and fists swinging decades afterward, either. I do cherish what I learned because the lessons were so hard, but I'd never wish them on anyone. It didn't make me stronger or a better person, it broke me and left me to try to put myself back together. Too many pieces were missing to ever be entirely successful. I think I could have been much more than I am if I could have avoided homelessness.
I'd do almost anything to save almost anyone from that sort of suffering. I've taken many people into my home over the years and I've volunteered to help people living in poverty in the ways I have been able, but there's a sort of selfishness to it. It calms my feelings of grief for the things I lost and my feelings of guilt for sleeping under a sound roof and behind a locking door while millions do not. It gives me something to push back against the memories of things I witnessed and was powerless to stop. It shuts up that illogical emotional voice in my mind that says I'm nothing but a helpless burden for a time sometimes, too.
Most of the people who hurt me while I was homeless were considered more respectable than I because they had homes, yet they were the ones going around hurting people.
C E Clark from North Texas on June 27, 2016:
Agree with much of what you write here. I would not call homeless people weeds, however. Weeds are unwanted (like homeless people), but sometimes they are not weeds, but mistaken for weeds, because the person making the judgment doesn't recognize a plant for what it really is.
Further, most of the homeless people I know would not be recognized as homeless. Here at least, they don't have any particular 'look,' about them.
Having grown up on a farm, I recall weeds as being very hardy and strong, and as a child they looked to me very beautiful. They grew quickly, snuffed out the wanted plants easily,took over, and grew strong.
I think a few months living truly homeless would be the best education most people could ever get, and you don't need student loans to pay for it. It's free! Costs nothing, and all you need to do is survive it somehow. As you say, it does give a different perspective to life.
I have known a couple of people who lived homeless for a while, but it was temporary and they knew that. Not the same as living on the street with no prospects and no hope of any prospects. People who are temporarily homeless never learn humility, and that's a major short coming that people who have never known true homelessness share.
Imagine if Jesus came to his planet again, dressed now in tattered jeans and flip-flops, a well worn T-shirt, and long hair. Homeless as He was before He was crucified. You have to know the prigs in our society would crucify Him all over again along with His friends, if only for being homeless. Amazing how many prigs there are in our world, and many are barely squeaking by, yet imagine themselves towers of superior morality because they live in a box (most houses are square or rectangular and have openings that can be opened and closed at will just like a box) instead of in their car or on the streets. I wonder if they really believe St. Peter is going to let them through for looking down on homeless people? Or maybe their declaration of love for Jesus is just lip service?
Very glad to read your thoughts on this important issue. Thank you for your contribution to the reality of this circumstance. Sharing.
Kylyssa Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on December 15, 2015:
I think it's especially important in the Western world where most of the dangers of homelessness come from our fellow homed human beings rather than from the physical conditions of lacking enough money to pay for a home. As a young person, if homelessness had only meant lack, suffering, and deprivation, it would have been a breeze to handle. All my lasting physical and emotional damage came from people attacking me because I was the perfect victim of opportunity with few repercussions to even killing me if they'd succeeded. Attitudes here are more dangerous than frostbite, hunger, and lack of medical care. Thank you for reading.
Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on December 14, 2015:
Beautifully done. It is so important to chronicle the homeless experience because so many of us, whether we admit it or not, are on the cusp of homelessness, and we need to empathize with those who are experiencing it, not hide them.