Friday, August 31, 2007

Urban Meditation

Today I've been reading Kip Tiernan and Fran Froelich's Urban Meditations, a collection of testimonials and other writing by Kip and those who have given inspiration during her more than forty years as a Boston urban minister. I was happily surprised to find this 1998 poem by Norma Laurenzi, a woman I knew in the late-80s and early-90s as a core activist in our Homes Not Bombs homeless direct-action organizing group. Norma was a front-line staff at Pine Street Inn, and was one of those extraordinary people whose passion for the poor derives from equal parts love and anger.
Easter, 1998

In Search of God,
No, no, not high above the alter,
but way below in the subway.
Not in the church
But behind it,
Bent over the heating grate.
No, not Sunday mass
But the mass that rises
In cement fields
With dirty dawn:
Climbing out of dumpsters.
Peeling from the pavement
Worming out of
Torched car windows.

I saw him.
His legs are lost in Korean landmines
And Boston snow banks.
His fingers ground
In factory machinery
Or green and thrown out
In hospital trash.
His lungs are eaten
Away with T.B., holes the size
Of nickels and dimes.
His jaw is sunken —
The teeth dropped out —
He sucks stone crusts till soft
Enough to swallow.

Go ahead,
Keep climbing mountains,
Examining sunsets,
Waiting for wind
To whisper answers.
I tell you he's here where:
One wooden foot keeps stepping
In front of the other, where
Fingerless palms
Balance cups in food lines,
Where tattered veils of lungs
Inhale and exhale,
And tongues keep finding
Nourishment in garbage.
He's most beautiful here
In this shrunken, aching mass of stumps
That keeps rising, rising, rising
Every dirty-rose dawn
To start all over again.

— Norma Laurenzi


Karl Wolfbrooks Ager said...

Thanks for the poem.

Stan said...

Thank you for sharing this. I've always felt that religious folk need to get out of their comfortable churches and see and touch and talk to the people that their prophets and messiahs have told them to love. I've been without a place to live in the days before anyone spoke of "the homeless" and I worked in a shelter for ten years, and am facing the prospect of becoming "homeless" once again due to loss of high paying job and lack of affordable housing or living wage employment. The years I spent either on the road, on the streets or working in shelters I met some wonderful and amazing people who had been discarded by this society. I also met many honest Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Moslem believers who took the words of their prophets to heart and did so with grace and compassion.

Unfortunately I met many more who did their "fill in the blank with the faith of your choice Duty" and in doing so poisoned the service they so piously condescended to offer. Or the missions which required a statement of faith and submission to get a bowl of unseasoned beans and a crust of moldy bread.

However angry I was at the time at these various non-believers I now hold them in my prayers, for though they injured the very people they pretended they wanted to help they hurt themselves even more. I feel sorry for their families and friends and coworkers and all those touched by their religiosity and bigotry. It has been said that those they harmed by their callousness could be healed in their forgiveness of their treatment, but those who held such beliefs were possibly beyond knowing that they needed redemption at all, if in fact there is any redemption to be had by anyone.

Again thanks for the poem and for your outrage and compassion.

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