For James Wright
Hobo Jungle on the banks of the Mississippi River
Police go into hobo jungles to remove corpses near dawn
flashlights and batons swinging.
Men huddle, look around for missing faces.
Some disappear in the night.
Police do not drag the river for hobos.
People go out to Nicollet Island
write prayers on paper,
fold them into boats to float down the river.
At night they light candles sing hymns
call each other brother, sister –
the nameless mourning the nameless.
Before the government made them landholders
Sioux people roamed the plains and Black Hills.
In Minneapolis men roam narrow streets
they have abandoned the land they do not want.
The men wear old names, scars older than their bodies.
They will talk to strangers, talk to themselves,
when talking to each other sometimes they fight
until someone pulls a knife and everybody runs
because these days
counting coup is just a story from the past.
One Hundred Fifty Dollars
The young girls look tall in heels.
They work the street where business is fast, steady.
Older pros work the bars, business is slower
but they are in from the cold.
In winter some pimps take business to Juarez.
The cops there are meaner but work for less.
Panning for Gold
No one begs anymore. We all work for food.
Young men claim street corners at knife point.
Old men shuffle around dumpsters collecting
bottles, cans – anything to survive.
Shelters and soup kitchens keep us alive.
We don’t have any cripples around in winter.
Some poet says they were carried away by white birds.
I believe the crows have picked their bodies clean
and dropped the bones in the river.
Laid to Rest
I don’t want a marker over a hole in the ground.
Set me loose on the river
let it wrap its soft brown hands around me.
The Mississippi has been my home, from hobo camps
to tugs, barges and docks. I have worked its length and width.
The crows can pick me clean, drop my bones in the headwaters.
In eighty days I’ll be cast into the sea, join the rest of my tribe,
wait to be reborn into the everlasting light
or returned to this world and its dark mysterious passage.