CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
Three Poems
Elizabeth Robinson



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.




Well.

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,

I confess)

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

neighborhoods

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

time.


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

to live?


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.