poem hobos


A few appeared when I was young,
rough as barn boards, strong as baling wire,
looking for work and food.  They ate
in the grass at the driveway’s end
down the long row of cottonwoods.
My mother sent them there, away from the house.
I wandered down with my dog to see them,
these roofless men who walked out of nowhere.
They walked out of the back roads and fields
of my memory today.  Why did they come?

When I bought my first house with my bride,
I dreamed a homeless man slept in the yard.
I tried to make him leave.
But he knew he belonged, unwelcome,
lest I forget.

These city bums, they don’t seem the same.
I did not pity the hobos of my youth,
faces sun-tanned and lined with sorrow.
They came, hat in hands, ashamed,
and knew the dignity of shame.
They knew life owed them nothing,
and let nothing own them.

        --Poetry East, Spring 2007