Contest Winner

Working People's Poetry Competition


The Transients


After my son died in the war
I wore his hat and vest,
his leather bracelets,
his ring, his dog tags, his jacket.
I clutched everything I could

Of his vanishing spirit.
I wore his vestments
like a swathe
on a wound that wouldn't heal.
Commemoration was my mission.


Death is not a stranger
but grief is an orphan.
I had no desire to let go
of a sinking compulsion.
I dove into the undertow.


Diaspora never ends
Every transient understands
time past and time future
do not divert, relocate,
or disperse.

Every wanderer confronts
a moral judgment:
Who are you to defy order?
Who are you to deny conformity?

The Gilded Moral

Give to the poor
what they feel the poor
do not deserve.
Transients haunt
the streets of America
Worthless, disposable, but
permanent and irrevocable,
while the profit zombie defiles
every torso in his way
as he slouches toward the heart of America.


I wore the vestiges
of my son's death
like a cape of commitment
to transients -- those people
America can't conceive profitably.


The aberrant aren't refuted,
they are re-enfranchised like tintypes
of anonymous indigents
who lurk on the crossroads
of America's dispossessed history

Dead and displaced
in antique boutiques.
Blank stares of the forsaken
beg reprieve on the stakes
of Time and Rue Morgue Ave.


America cannot tolerate on its face
shame, massacre, genocide . . . neglect.
Losers have their place in the order.
In my isolation
I recognized my standing.

I wore my grief until my face
was inscrutable as ancient languages
etched in stone with tools crude as pain.
One face among many faces passing
across the plains of America's desolation.


Faces of transients
older than the memories they contain,
lines chiseled around the mouth and eyes
with blunt voices and words of disdain.
Faces scuffed like soles.

Faces that live up to names they are called.
Faces that can't fake it at all.
Faces that lack all expectation.
Faces that spit and expect spit back.
Faces that cry like ice when they crack.

Slugged faces.
Shut up faces.
Faces that turn faces away.
Faces afraid they'll be called on to say
who they are and why

They have arrived here now.
Faces that gave up long ago
and go on just to say, I told you so.
Faces dumb as barrels.
Faced dull as door knobs.

Faces bleak as bent nails.
Faces that scratch your eyes out
with a glance.
Faces that won't let you forget.
Faces that don't have a chance

And don't know it yet.
Faces deserted like scenes of a disaster.
Faces in control of the pain.
Faces like windows wet with rain.
Faces you can read yet never explain.

Faces that grieve.
Faces that grovel.
Faces blunt as a grave digger's shovel.
Faces in mirrors.
Faces on fire.

My face as I face
the nakedness
of America's grief
and tremble like a thief
in the light.

              Gregg Shotwell

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