Guest Column for "Adventures In Poetry," Real Change, March 15, 2000
This is Anitra, Upon Whose Kitchen Floor Wes Has Sometimes Slept. Wes has a bad cold right now, which he says is my fault (because he's sleeping closer to me than the kitchen floor these days), and therefore I have to write his column for him.
Wes says I am starting out very well, staring at a blank white computer screen. He then gave me a tip to get started:
[insert column here]
Wes has just left the room, leaving me clear to talk about him with Cindy, Muse of Few Words. I ask Cindy, "I want to structure this column like Wes does, in the form that I have called a Wessitur: an apparent sequence of non-sequiturs that sneaks up behind a political subject and bonks it on the head. How do you suggest I start?"
Cindy says, "Say something about Wes now."
Wes was skinnier when I first met him (he also says that this is my fault, in spite of the fact that he does most of the cooking.) We were both homeless at that time, in October 1995. Wes attempted to teach me the use of acrylics, at StreetLife Art Gallery.
He still attempts to teach me math. I retaliate by singing sea chanteys at him.
Soon after I started going to StreetLife Gallery, Wes drafted me for the Real Change Editorial Committee. I retaliated by starting StreetWrites, to help more homeless and low-income writers develop material for publication. Wes said, "Okay, I'll attend, but you have to do the work."
How am I doing, Cindy? "At about this point, Wes says something else."
Speaking of something else, last week I attended the Seattle Police Department's first organizational meeting attempting to put together a Homeless Advisory Council. I was unhappy to see that I was the only person there who was a "community member" (still counted as low-income and formerly homeless) instead of a service provider or public official-- and I was only there because Timothy "Editor-God" Harris, Director of Real Change, was in production crunch on the paper. Tim made me feel a bit better by explaining that invitations did go out to SHARE, WHEEL & HOP -- but they went out very recently. Membership-driven grassroots organizations need more lead time to make decisions than top-down structured organizations. Adding in that the strongest memory most homeless groups have of such advisory councils is the sensation of having one's butt turned to rubber with the raised words "Whatever You've Already Decided" lettered on them, then pounded up and down -- and caution lengthens the lead time.
Speaking of caution, caution lengthened the lead time in the relationship between Wes and I. Within weeks of meeting each other we were spending large amounts of time together -- we were both officers of StreetLife Gallery, both writing for and editing Real Change, and we just hung out, because we made each other laugh, we sparked ideas for each other, I could say one sentence and he instantly knew what I meant, cutting my tendency to discourse at length and earning the undying gratitude of thousands.
But first, I was staying in shelters and he was Camping Out on Fern Hill (the exact location of which he still keeps secret in case he might have to use it again.) Then I got housing but Wes didn't; he could only visit me three nights a week at The Union Hotel, where he really did sleep on my kitchen floor, and we talked for several hours each night like kids at a slumber party. It was July 21st, 1997, at 4PM (I got the date and time from Wes) that Wes walked into the Real Change and handed his last pack of cigarettes ever to Tim Harris because I had mentioned that I wouldn't get intimate with a smoker's mouth. Then he didn't sleep on my kitchen floor any longer.
Speaking of lengthening, we were both divorced. Wes had a history of severe child abuse and suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had a history of relationships disrupted by my bipolar disorder (manic depression). We were both used to being prejudged, misjudged, and making bad judgments about others. A lot of reasons for caution on both sides. We're now regarded as the happiest couple in the Union Hotel, mainly because we come in about 3AM each morning laughing manically over such things as the application of the policy of Harm Reduction to late-night transit.
Maybe homeless people and the SPD will someday be cracking jokes together, working comfortably side by side, hanging out together. Also the physically disabled, and those with mental health / chemical dependency / developmental issues: other groups that the SPD is hoping to have new Advisory Councils for. If there's enough common ground; enough support; enough patience. If someone gives up their cigarettes, or whatever other habits are in the way.
How did I do, Cindy? "You left out poetry."
Haiku for Wes
He sleeps on my kitchen floor
while I check my email.
I need no Valentines.
More About Wes
More About Anitra