It is hard to be homeless,
I am traveling with a shopping cart,
sometimes pushing it,
sometimes riding in it with
over vast empty parking lots.
But more frequently
there is a sidewalk with uneven cement sections
and I have to lean on the cart to raise the wheels
as I navigate through litter and beer cans.
In the cart I have a small duffel bag
but I have no idea what it contains.
My most treasured possession is a small sack I hold in my hands, treasured because
there is a knife in it, an important tool for
my protection and survival.
I have a vague sense of direction
but I cannot remember street names.
There was a place I stayed
a few days back, and I am
looking for it. I only know
an approximate location.
There is a main street,
a crossing, and about a dozen
parallel streets to the north.
I have gone up and down
the street perpendicular
at the crossing, but I cannot always
make out the street names.
I know I will remember it
when I see it, but I don’t know
what I will do then.
I have no recollection of where on the street the place is that I am looking for
or even what it looks like.
I only remember that there were people around,
and commerce, and food, and in among the goods
being bartered, there were three
semi-automatic rifles that were valuable
and that I could take with me to sell
if there was a way I could conceal them
or a place to store them. Not having these things
I am continually trying to cover them so others
won’t take them and use them for
an ill-suited purpose.
Two women encounter me
trying to navigate a narrow sidewalk,
uneven and littered,
and ask me about books.
I have no books, only the mysterious duffel
and the small sack. I tell them
it is interesting that they mention books
because I am a book seller and collector,
but my voice is unfamiliar, even to myself,
and I struggle with the wording and a way to explain, and there is disbelief
in the women’s expressions;
somehow they cannot associate me
with literacy, and I have trouble
making the association myself.
There is one person
who saw part of a gun stock protruding
from a protective cover
and I hit him on the head
with a small stick of wood,
or piece of iron (I cannot remember which),
and his head was collapsed
and misshapen. But I don’t think
the tap I gave him caused it;
I think his head was deformed before.
After that a memory
of beaches and surf wafts in
like an approaching fog.
There are things out deeper in the water
that I desire but cannot get to;
the memory dissipates like steam.
Just before I woke up
I was navigating my cart backwards
through a large and barren,
indoor corridor, crouching in the cart
with my back toward the handle,
moving it by pushing the air
with my open hands,
the way you would
if you were in the water
and your grocery cart was a boat.
I pass two men and one pats me
on the head and I am comforted
by the gesture. I look
over my shoulder
and see the two men,
shaved bald, and talking
through a steel door.
It is hard to be homeless,
– Larry Berger.