There’s more than a meal on offer tonight.
Last week we had socks; tonight it’s Army kit and kaboodle.
They rummage through the mounds of clothes
spread along the trestle tables,
turning over piles of surplus, massive boots
and khaki camouflage shirts.
Ask me: Got any smaller ones?
I sort through the packets of stiff shirts,
the colour of grass stains and mud.
They pounce upon pairs of tough leather boots,
worn once on manoeuvres.
Traces of mud cling to the cleated soles,
laces tangled, tongues lolling open.
They tell me tales of fathers, uncles, brothers,
who served in the Armed Forces -
share those family connections
to their past, long lost but never forgotten.
Borrowing a trace of family pride,
they pose in their trophy uniforms.
Now we’re an army too, they joke.
The Army of the Homeless.
He’s there again,
back propped against
the old church wall,
dressed in army khakis,
his surviving camouflage.
His faithful dog sleeps by his side;
a golden Labrador, head upon its paws.
But look closer. The dog is made of sand,
cleverly sculpted each day he’s on the streets.
Are they for real, this dog or man? They try to tell us it’s a scam.
Anyone can buy a uniform on E-bay, or the outdoor shop.
One thing’s for sure, no passer-by has yet
spat at you, or stoved in the dog’s head.
It wasn’t the sight of you in an old pink hoodie
huddled in a doorway with your silent boyfriend,
staring down at the feet of passers-by;
nor your methadone eyes.
It wasn’t your cap of meagre coins,
nor the small stack of bags behind you,
witness to four long years lived on the street,
It was the little toy animal, a gilt lion or cat,
arranged carefully on a coloured cloth at your feet,
placed with other simple keepsakes rescued
from your exile.
You laid your worldly possessions before our feet,
random toys and bric-a-brac,
a patchwork of memories,
I see your delicate brass rubbings,
that took an artist’s eye and care;
I am enchanted by your display,
You’re the only person who has ever stopped to talk to me
about my artwork, you said,
Lisa Rossetti © 2019
The Youngest Son
It’s as if he’s underwater, drifting
towards us across the floor,
submerged in Spice dreams.
He’s at the bottom of the sea now
where only holy fools dwell,
with shoals and sharks.
Smiling sweetly he surfaces,
and peers through tangled curls.
He wants no worldly goods,
a pale-faced street saddhu,
surrendered to his Fate:
the freedom to be empty-handed.
Loved, but misunderstood, he never
got his chance to shine like others.
A sweet natured, dancing child;
different even then, you said,
Now he sleeps out on the streets,
making his fellow outcasts laugh.
Still you keep a bed for him,
your youngest son,
hoping he’ll return some day.
Your face tells it all, fearful
of that telephone call,
reporting his death in the dark.
Housewife 49 Revisited
It’s busy in the community kitchen tonight;
a battalion of volunteers bustles about.
How would Housewife 49 have fared here,
in her headscarf and flowered pinnie?
She’d understand the battle,
this urgency to care for lost souls
battling through cruel, dark times.
She’d recognise our apple pie and custard
served up in thick china bowls.
It’s the spirit of the blitz.
Would she find it strange to see men in aprons
or serving out the tea? Just like her,
we make it strong, with plenty of sugar.
There’s not a uniformed soul in sight.
No conscripts here; just an army of the hungry
Queuing for their rations.
Outside it’s snowing harder.
Inside, the radio plays.
Is that the Glenn Miller Band?
Am I hearing 'In the Mood'?
It is late. The weary ones arrive,
trudging over the threshold,
collapsing into café chairs, greeting friends.
You might think them to be fishermen
from long ago, in woollen caps
with weather-reddened skin, their beards untrimmed.
They’re toughened by harsh elements,
battered by cold winds and rain,
and daily dangers they endure.
Huddled in their coats, a second skin,
they stand around the hatch with ship-wrecked eyes,
asking for sugar, thanking you for tea.
No sou’westers here, nor yellow oilskins,
no silver-scaled haul for them;
they earn no hero’s prize nor praise.
Washed up on the shores of society,
just flotsam and jetsam - they’re lost at sea.
We throw out a fragile net to save them.
Lisa Rossetti © 2019