POETRY Homeless America

Philip C. Kolin, December 9, 2023

Poet Philip Kolin depicts the plight of the homeless: “They give/American progress a bad name…”

This land was made for you

and me but not for the homeless. 

They must squat on ground 

the length and width of a gravesite–

sleeping on steel slatted beds  

depending on rain to wash their clothes

and the sun to dry their socks. 

 Sometime they live in big-box cartons

that don’t have addresses or locks on , 

they don’t even have doors; and walls 

can shrink into pulp or blow away. 

 Or they encamp in makeshift tents

mortgaged to the wind and hope the Billy 

club cops won’t foreclose. They sleep in vehicles

without wheels and blue tarp roofs.

Once they were RV’s made for road trips;

now they are fugitives from junk yards.

They no longer ask when they can come home

because there is no home. Rents are out 

of their reach; or their hours have been

cut or they had their jobs outsourced to 

another country. Or medical bills have Gurney’d  

them from hospitals to streets. Or their families 

have given up on them. The price of belonging 

is love. They are bankrupt there too.  

Wall Street says they need to stick it out

but out of sight across the wilderness

of the streets; no gleaming cities want them.

They are unshaven, untouchable, uncared for,

 unaccounted for, unacceptable. They give

American progress a bad name; they are

bad for business. 

Philip Kolin is the Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus and Editor Emeritus of the Southern Quarterly at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has published 15 collections of poems including Emmett Till in Different States, Benedict’s Daughter, Delta Tears, and Mapping Trauma: Poems of Resistance about Black History (Third World Press).