CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
On the End
Here’s your natural cause.
Exposure, hunger, alcohol.
The flood rushes under the bridge
where some people liked to sleep.
They call it the shelter cough. What
they used to call the galloping
consumption. The causes continue to arrive
with yellowed skin and eye-whites, blur-tattoos.
All causes being chronic. Sparse
as causality is, possessing little but
sometimes carrying a neat
chess set. Or floss
that disdains rotten teeth
but sews a tear—borrow a needle?
Cause is so fucking contagious.
Rips in every fabric by its logic.
Cause is to lie down wherever it can in its
own stews, haunch to shoulder, elbow
to forehead, stink to stench where a voice is
a voice is a
voice only to itself and a deterrent to
the inexorable, the overweening, the cause better
than better than
meth, bread, cigarettes,
or booze. That for which there is no better.
The cause comes back always to sleep.
And that one, the complaint goes,
and bitterly, wakes in the middle of the night
laughing or crying, so’s to wake everyone.
Natural causes hinge that way between night
and dawn where insomniacs are concerned. No one
knows the line between nature and cause.
I said chronic already.
Said woken up with one’s pants yanked down around
one’s ankles. Now that’s nature.
Like blood from a broken lip.
Nothing’s more natural than blood.
Nature’s blow to the head makes
permanent alterations to the nature of nature.
You can taste its salt when it drips from
nostril to mouth. Nature’s efficient transit.
For those who are addicted, abusing, obsessed
(Obsessed being admission as in:
Let me in,
simply to say it, nature, nature, nature
leads back to itself as nature
redounds to cause.
Our hobo unpacks the chess set, loses a pawn.
Begs a free ride from the bus driver on a cold night.
You don’t say “homeless” to describe nature, the
euphemism is “unhoused.” Or
maybe “unhoused” is just the more apt
term for traveler who is rigid
with honor, can’t back down from a fight.
That’s right. Nature’s a traveler without cause.
Its dictionary defines it with weather.
Both kin and utterly unrelated.
Finally serious when it stops shaking the body,
nature promises to accept itself, ever colder at its core,
as weather. It wakes
in the dark, intent on sleep.
Here’s what I’ve learned,
she told me.
How to park in
where no one will notice
my car. How lonely I am.
How at the mercy of weather.
How little I need, how hard
it is to keep track of what little
I need. How I never thought this
could happen to me, never thought so.
I just got a little sick and then. How to stay
looking clean. Do I look clean? So no one will
notice me. Here’s what I tried to sell to make a
little money, but no one wanted or would buy it.
Would you take it and give it away, if there’s anyone
who might want or need any part of it at all?
Causes of Homelessness
I lost my job, so I lost my apartment, so I lost my address, so I lost
a place to send my paycheck.
I moved here to be with my girlfriend but then she iced my lame ass.
I moved here to be with a girl, but then I realized that she was crazy
and I went downtown to a shelter, but that place wasn’t safe.
Came here with my boyfriend, and we were camping up in the mountains,
but then he got mad and drove away. The rangers found me with hypothermia
and brought me down. They’re bringing my stuff in a truck pretty soon.
I can’t stand being around these (sotto voce) homeless.
I’m homeless because of my parents. No, really.
It’s better than being in jail. Nah, it’s way better than being in a juvenile mental
hospital. Yeah, way better than that.
I’m homeless because I’m an alcoholic, but I’m a functional alcoholic, most of the
I’m unhoused because I can’t stand sleeping inside. Can’t do it. I don’t want to.
It’s beautiful here.
I got sick.
I hurt my back, and I can’t do that work no more.
I’m a traveler.
I’d rather spend my money on weed than on taxes.
They can’t make me pay the fines if I don’t have any money
or any place to live.
Our friends promised us jobs and said we could start off
living with them, but when we got here, the company
was just a big scam and he claimed
his girlfriend was uncomfortable having
us in the house.
I’m an, um, an emancipated minor. Can I have that apple?
Did you see the way that policewoman looked at me? Homeland
Security told her.
I just want some speed right now. Sorry to be so blunt; it can make
for social awkwardness.
Well, I had a place to live until my truck broke down and while I was
off trying to figure out how to fix it, they towed it away.
Goddamit, why can’t you fix the shower, so I can go in clean
to work and they won’t figure out that I don’t have any place
We just had a really bad day.
I just got out of prison.
I’m part of Anonymous. I need to be staying in the hills for a little while.
Can’t find anyone who will rent to a person who has a felony.
They said that they would have to go through my stuff, and hold it, to
check if I had bedbugs, and I said fuck that shit, I’m out of here.
My husband left me.
I dunno. Someone put me on a bus and then I was in this parking lot. Could
you try to call my daughter?
My parents died.
I’d like you to meet my son.
This here’s my wife. Over there’s my brother.
There are five of us. My other brother’s arriving soon.
Elizabeth Robinson’s most recent books are Blue Heron and On Ghosts. She lives in Boulder, Colorado, and works at a day shelter for homeless people and the working poor.