“photography of tunnel pathway” by Peter Clarkson on Unsplash

Intro: Homelessness is an issue that resonates with me. It seems unjust that housing can be considered more of a privilege than a basic right. Poetry is not for everyone, and can be particularly tricky to compose. The moments where a verse seems to come together feel like they rise out a heat in the pit of my stomach. They need to get out.

I have written several pieces of the issue of homelessness. This is a piece that I composed around Christmas 2017, whilst I was out shopping. In Birmingham at the time, it was estimated that there were 12,000 people sleeping rough. The scale of the problem seemed to be visceral on that day. The inspiration came when I was sat outside the cathedral, looking around and listening to a chap playing a Christmas ditty, trying to make some cash. It’s times like that I wish I was a photographer. To capture the image of this man with a beat-up, second hand instrument, dirty jogging bottoms and a too-small coat that barely covered his forearms.

I have tried my best to capture the experience on that day below. Thank you for taking the time to read.

Snap

Homelessness is the hopelessness that plagues my city’s streets,
Curbs littered by piles of rags, cardboard and papers,
Scattered rough sleepers.
All while the innkeepers
Move on the warmth seekers 
As long as there’s profit to make their pockets deeper.

And from these privileged heights, 
I’ll tilt my head so slight 
to grace their existence with my acknowledgement.
As though in the knowledge that I see them 
Will help to water, feed and them,
the tattered donations I made when
I was last feeling generous. 
Or at least not so disingenuous 
that I couldn’t justify 
binning my stretched and faded fabrics.

And as I walk from the glass and the ring
of metallic fluorescent colours, 
and stride amongst my sisters and brothers, 
not a single person looks at one another — 
especially not at you.

As I perch on a bench outside St Phillips, 
Upon the vista a mother pivots 
the camera around her
children to crop out you —
after all you do spoil the view.
The seasonal snapshot
cannot be passed up
when it’s just as easy to pretend you’re not there.

And between the golden light
bathing the pathways and scrubbed stone, 
in the shadows of Lloyds a man stands all alone, 
the only instrument, I assume, that he owns 
and he plays chorus of jingle bells
on the saxophone.

No more than the same 4 bars
Played over and over and over and over

Just enough for the passers by to hear, 
a snapshot of Christmas, a moment of cheer,
enough to warrant the kindness of coppers
from the less self-centred of the bustling shoppers.

But there’s no moment of pause, 
or half-deserving applause, 
because when the shoppers go home it’s back to the floor.
Sheltering from the wind, 
huddled against a closed door.

And it may just be the season
that I see the irony more and more, 
as money exchanges 
(our hard earned wages) 
to make the smallest difference 
in the snapshot of a day.

And if I thought about it long enough, 
I would give all my stuff.
And yet it would take a moment of humanity, 
to snap out of the insanity 
and replace spare change 
with real change.

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