There is a long alley between Valencia and Mission Street.
A vacant mattress: its place by the wall makes a semi-private room.
The tenant shifts from day-to-day but the mattress remains: covered by a pile of greasy blankets.
Graffiti is everywhere; names and curses bleed into each other: Someone bring some love –Phil.
Teen aged boys arrive on skateboards to silently read the words.
Words that express an ever shifting state of pain.
Three men and two women are here today.
They have a Safeway cart decked out in dazzling rags.
They smile when I stroll by and I smile back.
We don’t approach each other.
One of the men sits on the mattress while a woman squats on a crate to gently untangle his matted hair.
A second group of shirtless boys roll through the alley and stop to read the walls.
The word “PANIC” is sprayed in aqua blue.
The homeless question God.
They talk to him on these walls:
Vision Risk: why the poor?
Someone replies: Because God won’t accept pride.
Vision Risk: why the wretched?
Someone replies: Despised, they have the unadorned gift of life. They sleep in the shelter of these walls, beneath these words, their lives test our faith.
A pigeon struts on the mattress; a scavenger among scavengers, cooing and pecking.
It seems content to nest with the people on the rags.
One of the writings on the wall is changed.
The line now reads:
Someone bring some
love mercy! – Please God! – Phil
There but for Fortune by Phil Ochs
Usage Public Domain Mark 1.0
(c)Writing and Photo, Rob Goldstein 2016