Monday, April 17, 2006

Youth Leader Reflects on Homeless in Toronto

The following is a poem written by a youth leader who recently brought a group to our Toronto site. We thank him for his insight and for sharing his heart with us.

John Doe

There on the street they huddle.
The cold is not so bad
if you're watching from a heated van
anticipating a warm, soft bed.

But to walk with empty pockets,
no money and no I.D.
Well - a toonie you might be hording.
From past abuse you might be free.

But the night stretches before you
so endless, cold and dark.
The new life you have dreamed of fades
'gainst realities so stark.

The streetlights glare with a cold, cruel light
casting shadows all around.
Your courage shrinks as terrors creep
from each outline on the ground.

You hate the one who forced you
to finally run away.
You hate your helplessness and fear
of this night and coming day.

You cry to God. But you don't believe
that he hears you - or he cares.
For painful years have led to this.
When has he heard your prayers?

And the toonie in your pocket
might ease your hunger's pain.
But you can't yet bear to spend it
so you shuffle on again.

Still the smells from the hotdog vender
are a torture you've never known.
They force your memories to look back
on the good you once called home.

But that good was stained by a trust betrayed.
Pain's an overflowing well
that rises, stirring up the murk
of shame - flushed straight from hell.
You can't go back! You WON'T go back!
You swear it once again.
But your empty belly mocks you
on this dark night full of shame.

And the streetlights glare in the bitter cold
casting shadows on the ground.
The darkness seems inside of you.
Hope cannot be found.

Desperate though you are to trust
you can't trust anyone.
You cry inside, though the tears don't spill
as you begin to make a plan.

Your toonie would buy a token,
down to the subway train.
A single step could bring relief;
an end to all your pain.

Your eyes begin that bitter search
and your feet move on as well.
Then you're stumbling down a long, long stair,
descending into - Hell?

But the love of life is still too strong
and you turn and rush away.
Your tears this time you cannot hide
and your pain, they must betray.

So your feet go on their endless tramp.
It doesn't matter where.
You're dead - you're just not lying down.
The passers by just stare.

No one reaches out a hand
or offers just a smile.
Your weary feet still pound the concrete
mile after mile.

The shadows fade. The sun appears.
One endless night is done.
You find a corner free from wind
and stand there in the sun.

You've almost ceased to shiver.
You hardly feel the cold.

It doesn't seem to matter now,
the death of your plans bold.
The sun's soon covered by a cloud.
The cloud spits freezing rain.
Your strength is gone. You half believe
you must deserve this pain.

You cry to God, a wordless cry.
You wonder, does he hear?
You're empty now of bitter rage.
You've almost ceased to fear.
Your knees buckle beneath you.
Head sags against your chest.
One more John Doe, on memorial role
will say - you found your rest.
.. .. ..

There on the street they huddle.
The cold is not so bad
if you're watching from a heated van
anticipating a warm, soft bed.

I drove that van on Toronto's streets.
I saw them huddled there.
My cry to God - a wordless groan
was an anguished, pain-filled prayer.
The memorial plaque with its list of names
in my memory is burned,
and the purplish red of a cold, cold hand
and the help so often spurned . . .

A hot sandwich and hot coffee
there on the freezing street . . .
Is that all I can give them
their needs to somehow meet?

For I the poet - full of words
was dumb there by their side.
And home now in my comfort,
sat with pen in hand, and cried.

Copyright April 10, 2006 Brian Austin

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