Issue 26: Elizabeth Robinson

Four Homeless Poems

A Man is a Parable

A man is a parable.  He stands in his eyelet skirt and twists at the waist, considering himself.

A man makes coffee from grounds he finds in the dumpster behind Starbucks.  Finds, finds. He finds his eyelet skirt, his pinkie ring, his food, and gifts he gives to others, finds them in the trash.

The man lives under a bridge.  He is a parable of finding, finds cigarette butts, pulls them apart, makes cigarettes with newspaper, paper towels, whatever he finds. Burns his fingers as he inhales.

A man twists at the waist, trying to see himself, unavailing. A parable.

A man gets SSDI, moves from state to state, finds that in California he gets more money than he did in Oregon or Washington, hitches to Colorado and keeps collecting from California. When Colorado finds him, they find him in violation, so they siphon off money from what he gets. What he gets, what he got, was never enough to live off. He will find a way.

A man lives under a bridge, loves shiny things, wears mardi gras beads he found in a dumpster, loves the eyelet skirt he found in the trash, wears a tank top stiff with grime even when he is given a clean t-shirt.

Who can see himself?  No one. Who is lithe enough to twist at the waist and see a self there waiting to be seen? Who, that one, who can be found, here or there, or under the very street on which a man may live.

A man is a parable who is dirtier than any man ever alive on the planet before him. He sees himself best through his dirt and smell. He finds himself innocent. He lifts his hands to fend off the blows and they are blackened and warty. His hands. He swears the stain is not frostbite. He loves his dirt and that is a lesson. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, he says to any who suggest that he should clean himself.

Who can be clean and see himself? No one. 

A man under a bridge drinks a beer. He emerges in the morning with a black eye, a fat lip, a blot of blood at the edge of his nostril. But he knows that no one has hit him. A man is a parable who laughs, laughs at what did not happen, and at who did not steal his money. Ha ha he says, each ha his artifice, his story, his trailing off into a glimpse at a self not acknowledged anywhere in the world ever alive as a self.

A man is punched in the jaw. A punch that breaks the jaw, shatters the tooth lodged in the jaw, ruptures the gums that would have held tooth and jaw back. A parable is a thing released from itself.                                                                                                  

A man is a grievous injury with no perpetrator. A hunger that cannot bear to bite down. A man finds that he grows thinner, but not more supple. To requite the pain, he pulls throat lozenges from the garbage. A man who has so little to say numbs his tongue and throat. A parable not overtaken by sepsis.

A Vein is a Parable

A vein is a parable, a figure of all that rolls, collapses. A parable wistful for circulation. 

A man holds this, all that he knows and cannot read, like a needle that has no compass: arrow misguided to a heart and back again to fingertips. 

The almost-black sludge that rolls and collapses within himself. Nib of a pen that cannot scratch any script, absent its ink.

A vein is a parable as a man sweeps his hand down his arm, says he’s been looking here for years. Rolls his shoulder forward, bicep, then forearm. Maybe here.

Maybe here as the blue line puckers and then rolls away from the needle. The body curling over itself, the vein twisting in its flesh, a parable of all that eludes. Needle clumsy at its target. Maybe not.

May be there. Mapped over with homemade tattoos, misspelled words. A parable is a magic spell that cannot puncture its own vein, deliver its eloquent poison. A parable is

hours of trying. Charm and enchantment that cannot find the letters for its own words. A parable is illiterate, but so smart. Maybe

now. A parable is a vein that excites itself at the thought. Of what might flow through a ruined thing. A parable is a tourniquet that writes the words by cutting

them off. A thing swelling to visibility so that its blue current can turn the darkest red. Wistful. A collapse, a parable, a single letter bisecting itself to inject its own substance, begging infection, begging delivery.

A Hand is a Parable

A hand is a parable if a parable is a litany. Hand telling a story not its own. Hand lost in darkness, groping. Hand black with grime and frostbite. Especially frostbite. Hand curling around its debility to hold a pencil and draw—what? A gothic script, a superhero. Hand’s filth smudging the graphite for more subtle shading.

A parable is instructive, a story that tells, but a hand does not disclose. A hand opening and closing, awkward with cold and damage. A hand cannot be a parable, but only a list of itself. What it grasps and all that it cannot.

A litany is a portrait that repeats itself. The hands clasp themselves: a petition. Hand whose flesh appears ruffled with scars. Hand whose muscles are pocked with the black holes of MRSA. Hand missing its ring finger: septic. No betrothal. 

A litany is a parable is a syllogism that the hand tries to prove. Cannot. The logic of the hand: jerking off in the library bathroom. The hand plucking a cell phone from the Walmart shelf. Hand nefarious with need. Fingers whose logic seizes on necessity that kicks away proof.

A litany is a story with instructive value. How the hand itches with meth, feeling there what isn’t there. A broken fingernail worrying a scabby face. Hand shading the eyes from a violent sun. Hand throwing and warding off blows.

The hand in alcoholic neuropathy forcing a signature. Hand delicately twisting a dental floss dreamcatcher into the rim of a bottle cap. A litany is a story of the one thing, the story it must teach. What it must offer to prove it is itself: hand extended to the police officer, holding out photo i.d. 

A Woman is a Parable

A woman is a parable of existence, unless she does not exist. A woman lives with a man whom she loves. He purchases a home security system, and then he watches her. Makes sure she exists. Is his existence. Is there.  Is his “there.”

A woman insists that she exists outside the frame of his monitor. She will go there where she will. A woman is a parable there where she is elsewhere.

A man proves she exists by forcing her back into the frame. Proves that a woman exists by forcing her to proliferate. She does not want children. He impregnates her.

A woman is trapped in a house where she is watched to make sure she is there. She has two tiny babies, too small to exist. She runs away. She no longer exists, but her babies do. More and more they exist, by their own hunger and by her love.  When she goes to the hospital to see them, the man beats her, takes her by the hair to pull her back to his elsewhere. She runs away.

A woman must now deny her existence. We never see her babies. We never learn her last name. The man sees her at a bus stop, stops his car, takes her again by the hair to pull her into the fitted frame of his existence. What he feels is fitting.

A parable instructs by comparison. But comparison to what? Was she a woman? We cannot know. She is now gone: name, babies, social security number, even occupation. We wish her well. Where? She does not exist.

Elizabeth Robinson is the author, most recently, of Rumor, from Free Verse Editions. She has been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award for On Ghosts (Solid Objects) and has been a recipient of the Fence Modern Poets Prize for Apprehend (selected by Ann Lauterbach) and the National Poetry Series for Pure Descent (selected by Fanny Howe).

With Jennifer Phelps, she co-edited the critical anthology Quo Anima: innovation and spirituality in contemporary women’s poetry, published by University of Akron Press in 2019. Robinson’s poetry has recently appeared, or is forthcoming in, Denver Quarterly, Conjunctions, Auruchs, Plume, Fence, Hambone, The Rumpus, Colorado Review, and Vestiges.

Copyright © 2021 by Elizabeth Robinson, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.