“When We Were Homeless”: A Prose Poem

Holidays are the worst, families gathered around dining-room tables passed down from parents, someone blessing the turkey, the brisket, the sweet potatoes and three-bean salad, thick-sliced bread just out of the oven, an expectation of pecan pie.

The last hot lunch at the mission was Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and we missed it. Everything closed for the holiday, including Friday plus Saturday and Sunday. We understand. We don’t begrudge folks a holiday meal with their family, a day off from worry about us and the other Poor even Jesus said you always have with you, and since he watches over sparrows, he knows we are four days out from a sit-down meal.

Then, right there in the middle of the street is a donut glazed with sprinkles and still in its clear wrapper, but I’ve been four days hungry before and know I don’t need to risk food poisoning. But Jersey believes this a gift, not accidentally dropped, or on purpose, so he picks it up and offers it first to me. Then he eats it quickly so not to tease my caution.

I also refuse fish. Jersey will eat tuna right out of a can he finds with the pull-top lid un-pulled, even in the hottest summer, last August, telling me here, Rosie, it’s sealed, vacuum-packed. No fish for me, thanks. But Jersey . . . he smiles on everyone, everything that comes his way, his laugh loud as thunder announcing a downburst to cool city streets. He finds Jesus on every corner, offering broken and shared day-old bread, pieces of fried fish multiplied clean for people like us.

We didn’t choose this life, and but for the grace of God, you could be us. We once were you. But Jersey? He takes it all with a smile, knowing what to expect around the next corner.

Susan Pigott