Spoken Free Verse: The Middle Seat

Photo credit: “Mural” Jackson Pollock,1943, (University of Iowa Museum of Art, Gift of Peggy Guggenheim 1959.6 / © 2009 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / ARS, NY) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/decoding-jackson-pollock

As I recover from a concussion ( please visit my Go Fund Me to learn more ) I thought this week was a good time to explore the audio files I have accumulated on my phone over the year.  Often inspiration strikes when I am away from a pen and paper and I can’t type the words quick enough into a note.  Recording observations as RAW audio free verse poems are satisfying for me.  Background sounds are incorporated into the piece which, I think, adds to the impromptu performance.  Also, there is a desirable amount of light pressure to form a creative thought in one take.

The fifth poem I offer up for this project is a desolate poem with the working title “The Middle Seat” recorded August 27, 2018, one and a half months before my bike accident.  Riding the 1 bus through town it stops at the YWCA, then travels by The Lighthouse Mission before it comes to my stop, the plywood mill off Roeder.  Every day there are people in crisis on this bus.  It gets to you after a while.  At times it scares me.  I fear that, if I’m not careful, I could become homeless.  Sitting in the middle of the bus one afternoon, I witnessed a rare perspective between the hopeful and the hopeless.  I’m stunned.

I recommend listening to the audio file while reading the poem.  I open Google links in Music Player for Google Drive.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1UHw3dogZno8Ev9pJlxORq2mAW09HCMrp

 

The Middle Seat

by Shannon P. Laws

 

I take the 1 downtown
my nose is bombarded by the scents of the 1
I smell an overwhelming perfume of mental illness, poverty and piss

I hear the voices of hope
three women in the front of the bus
discuss low-income housing
it’s options, what they’re like
how much they ask for
Two of the ladies are working to get out of the women’s shelter
and one has
one has gone into low-income housing
she’s made that next step out of that poverty
and they talk
and their voices have hope
I hear it
also, its riddled with pain
but they smile
and they share information

Five people behind me reek
of vomit and piss and liquor
as if they haven’t bathed in weeks
or maybe just since yesterday
I can’t tell
Bad breath
Everything they have is dirty
everything they touch is dirty
their bodies are dirty
These are people still on the streets

and there I am in the middle of them
It feels like I’m sitting on the edge of a knife

I could be
at a moments notice
in one incident
one health care thing
one accident
I could be on either side of this fence
but I take the 1 to go to my job at the sawmill
it’s depressed right now
work is slowing
we’re building up our stock
There are rumors we are building
up the stock right now to burn it

I’m drinking coffee and a breakfast cookie
sitting by myself in the break room
My body bombarded by the sound of the
machines pounding wood

 

 

##

 

 

Poem: Homeless Servant Less Than

 

homeless art 5

Homeless Servant Less Than

I am a dirty demographic.

The frog in the hand of a young boy testing his powers

I am the lump of feather-bones on a pine needle floor

poked at by eight-year-olds with a stick

 

A mermaid with a black eye

A mountain goat with a bad foot

A blind Colossus walking the street

A Hermes on a flat-tire bike

 

I am homeless

I will always be with you

I am broken never to be fixed.

 

by Shannon P. Laws

 

homeless signs_large

*Learn more about how to help the homeless in Whatcom County:

http://www.whatcomhsc.org/homeless-in-bellingham-film-project/

Poem: As an Old Man Who Sleeps Standing Up

Dorothea Lange man leaning against vacant store
Photo credit: Dorothea Lange, Man leaning against vacant store

His eyes close

As if he prays

Corners of his mouth

Move as a young cat

Dreams of suckling

Does his faith send a

Request to his god

Or does he dream.

A tear falls from the

Outside corner

Lands on his collar

No—it’s sweat,

A drop from his hair.

Old man is like a babe

Resting in a crib

Constructed by days

Of hard labor

Hammered by nights

With jarred hooch

Amazon Kindle: Madrona Grove

Hello readers!

Bongo roll please—

Glad to announce that my first book of poems

Madrona Grove: Poems Written Under the Canopy

is now available in print or Kindle on Amazon!

Click the title or the photo to get to the page in a snap

e57e1-onlinecovermg
Madrona Grove Now Available!

 

It took a few days to get it properly formatted, but it’s up and ready for purchase.   Excited to be able to offer my first book on Amazon.  Hoping to reach new readers.  

Please consider a copy as a gift for a friend, or as an addition to your poetic library; I fit nicely between Keats and Oliver.  *wink*  -SPL

ABOUT

POETRY: Shannon P. Laws, 2013 Mayor Arts Award winner, takes us on a stroll through the mind, heart and the mystery of dreams in her debut collection. Her poems, like a fine picnic laid out on a blanket in the shade of her beloved Madrona, reveal treasures that hide in everyday living. This majestic tree, native to her home on San Juan Island, has a skin like bark, alive to the touch. They act as a sentry on her journey through ancient emotions and primal urges that stir within.

 

 

Seagulls- 1, Crows- 0

Bellingham is an interesting place to live.  If you do not agree, I recommend an early walk around the neighborhood.  Remnants of our lively nightlife are evident in the early hours.  Left overs like a cigarette butt nest of empty beer bottles near the last step of an apartment building, and used rubbers, hint to a friendly exchange.  As a writer I wonder about a scene like that.  I mean HOW does THAT happen?  Was the cheap beer and loose conversation so titillating that it climaxed into a midnight, sidewalk escapade?  Hmmmm…. how many licks does it take to get to the center of it?  We may never know.

The Walk: Part 1
This morning I noticed some clouds were sleepy, clinging to the Earth like a warm blanket.  Ground fog rests silently in the hills around my neighborhood.
A van full of everything someone owns, even the owner.  Slumped over, fast asleep, no blanket for him, two coats of insulation.
Dew still on the grass, and the crows and seagulls are talking to each other.  Caws versus shrieks; calls of our hilltops wrestle with the sound of the sea.  Turning the corner a large black garbage bag from the baseball stadium rips open; guts of popcorn and half eaten hot dogs spill out.  Five seagulls watch guard over it.  With those regal heads and crisp beaks, like soldiers guarding a fort.
On the next corner, a cherry tree shows off its early fruit.  Yellow, blending to orange, by fall cherry red will be visually defined.
Next block over, I tip toe by another man asleep in his car.  Blue Ford Escort Wagon is his address.  Two in one morning, and just a rock toss from a homeless tent camp a few evergreens over.
Signs For Rent.  For Rent.  For Rent.
The morning birds tweet it up above me, reminding me of the proverb to be more like them.

The Walk: Part II
At the trail head two police cars mark the entrance.  What’s happened, I wonder…  but continue on.
Is this trail closed?
Well, we believe there to be a group of people held up in one of these warehouses.  We’re bringing in the dogs here in a bit.  Might be better for you to walk someplace else.
Yep-
Turning around up towards the stadium.  Trekking over a silent creek.  Full of water, the surface so still you could dance on it.  More birds tweeting, reminding me again to be happy and content.
The Walk: Part III
I continue my walk. Up hill towards home, my legs appreciate the work out, blood moves, waking me up.  There’s a Bike Ride for Cancer event happening this weekend.  Arrow signs point the route, matches my own, although I suppose I am walking only for myself this morning.
As I cross the final stretch an empty box of tomatoes is sitting in the middle of a large parking lot.  It’s contents smashed up around it.  Not the first time I saw this.  It takes weeks for tomatoes to disappear from blacktop.  I imagine that a troupe of Midnight Tomato Fighters meets here for a monthly la Tomatina smashing!  Do they wear team colors or is it one for all?  So many questions.  So many issues.
Towns are complex, fun, strange, quiet, loud and beautiful.
What a walk.  What a town.

This Side of Paradise

Times change, they always do, it is no surprise- but are you ready for it this time? 

Since I was 15 I have always been able to find employment.  Between 1990 and 1993, however, thanks to a working husband, I was able to stay home and raised my kids.  In 1993, when I was looking to return to the work force I sought out a part-time/evening job at a local mall.  I found work and the shift I needed without any problem at a kitchen appliance store.  That time in my life we lived in North Bend Washington, a small city just off  I-90 set in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.  North Bend is the last/first town  on your way through the mountain pass.  This small town with a population of about 5,000 people hosts few restaurants, an outlet mall and gas stations making it a great pit-stop for travelers.  Thanks to the booming retail and restaurant industry in the 90’s I was employed for many years while I worked on my degree. 

One day I approached my boss with a request for Sunday/Mondays off.  My request was denied.  It was important to my home life that I get these two days off in a row to help accommodate child care.  Without blinking an eye, I took a walk around the mall and applied to three other stores that had “Help Wanted” signs (remember those).  One place, a leather store, hired me on the spot, and for fifty cents more an hour! At the end of my shift, I gave my notice to the appliance store. There was no worry in my mind that I would be able to find a job with the schedule I wanted, I was more concerned that another person might snatch it up before me.  Those day of jobs-a-plenty are over.

Since 2008 I have been laid off three times.  It’s no fun and I don’t appreciate it.  I stick my tongue out at this sour economy!  *blah*  Recently I saw a video about a real estate agent from Arizona who was unemployed.  She mentions that she was down to cashing out her last IRA to pay her rent.  I wish I was that lucky!  How close is the middle class from becoming homeless or permanent renters in our nation this year?

The recession will force 1.5 million more people into homelessness over the next two years, according to estimates by The National Alliance to End Homelessness. In a 2007 study by the The National Alliance to End Homelessness, Washington ranks in the top ten states with the highest rates of homelessness.

Visual changes have made their way to my city. The first neighborhood I moved to when I came to Bellingham seeking work was Broadway Park off Cornwall Avenue.  It’s an affluent neighborhood where toned husbands stroll their children on the sidewalks while little hot mamas jog in packs of two.  After living there for three months it dawned on me that everyone around that part of town was beautiful.  It felt like I was living in the (original) Star Trek episode 24, “This Side of Paradise” where the crew lands on a planet full of healthy, flourishing colonist that never grow old.  I had yet to see any homeless people in my part of town.  I asked a neighbor jokingly, “I’m new to Bellingham, and was wondering where do you keep all the ugly people?”  This may sound harsh, but I just wasn’t use to living in such a lovely place.  It felt like the whole world was happy, healthy and loved!  That was 2010. 

Two years later, as I drive around town, I can’t help but notice more homeless people on the corners.  These are not your typical homeless types.  I’m seeing students, and working class folks asking for some change.  Alcohol induced crime seems to also be on an increase in Bellingham.  In the last three Cascadia Weeklys, a local newspaper, it seems there are more stories where a drunk person walks into a strangers home mistaking it for theirs. This says two things to me:  people still feel the crime in town is low enough that they don’t need to lock their front doors and, that more people are turning to an easily accessible drug to escape reality. 

Seeing a homeless person on the street pings a new place in my heart these days.  They lean up against a building of commerce, legs stretched out into the sidewalk, creating a human speed bump, an obstacle to walk around.  Questions: Are they like a pit no one wants to fall into?  Are they visual reminders that one day, if you don’t play your cards right you could end up there?  Are you prepared to be laid off 5 or 10 years before retirement after putting 10-20 years into a company?   How is your debt to income ratio?

Lee Jeffries “Homeless” 

 Corporations are all about making a profit.  That is what they are designed to do.  It’s like asking if a lion eats meat.  With the large amount of workers in the market, companies do not need to pay workers a wage that is competitive to keep them.  It is a employers market.  We are now working slaves.  Decent performance may keep our jobs only for as long as the employer needs us; we are disposable.  The moral obligation of corporations to pay Americans a decent wage so the worker can raise a family, own a house and two cars is as out of date as a teenager listening to the radio- why would they? 

This poem popped into my mind a few mornings back:

I: The Beginning of Insanity

“Tick, Tick” went the brain
Fuse is blown, not easy to replace
Confusion and clarity enter
Eggs fold in cake batter
Eyes open in denial
Filth has risen up around her, overnight

Empty pockets- no keys
car keys, house keys, mail keys
Body presses against a brick wall
Surrender to the forces of nature
Arms fling upward like white flags
Baggy clothes hide a sick frame

Sitting on the sidewalk
Like crumpled garbage
tossed out of a moving car
Back to the wall, built to support business
the concrete track carries people.
Did both let her down?
Paths once straight
now a hard couch,
now an unmade bed
for far too many

II: Graphic

My line graph reads:
“Power to the Corporations”
Margin to the left points to the sky
Labeled below: “Time” stretches right
toward a dark future.
Our lady’s figure mark the points
High at the head
Bent at the waist
Peak at he knees
Tapered at the feet

The title of my graph
“Hope in America”
A blood red line
falls
staggers
down
down
down

http://www.cascadiaweekly.com/
http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/526/homeless-facts.html