This cycle of poems explores homelessness through one woman’s experience of falling from her privileged, educated status.
Heidish (Too Late to Be a Fortune Cookie Writer, 2013, etc.), an award-winning and well-published writer of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, found inspiration for this collection from working with homeless women. The stories are fictional but based on a notebook she kept over her 17 years of volunteering. Heidish chose a well-educated, upper-middle-class narrator “to show that homeless women, narrowly stereotyped, come from all strata of society”—always true but especially so in the current economy. This choice can make for unexpected, striking images, as when her narrator is glad for the poetry she memorized in college: “I sleep on lines of iambic pentameter, / waking to that music I thought I forgot.” Though the subject of homelessness may sound overearnest, Heidish’s powerful voice, often bolstered by rhyme and meter, makes this collection as tough and resilient as its subjects. But the poet locates far more than toughness in her homeless women; she makes the reader see their undeniable (but too often denied and thus tragic) humanity. The narrator resists feeling like a charity case, claiming what dignity she can, as in “A Donated Apple”: “Don’t pity me. Don’t you dare. / I own part of an orchard now.” The images are surprising and fresh, which makes an effective counterpart to the often somber tone. Wondering what corporeal laughter would look like, the speaker guesses: “A fountain speaking French in your backyard? // The sound of three knees knocking? / A dachshund as a tango partner?” The narrator’s openness to grace gives the wrenching collection its soul. In “Cracks,” the speaker considers sidewalk cracks, familiar from life on the street, and the unspoken stories of cares, hopes, and rage that have stamped across them. She wonders what the point was but concludes “children still dance here, / … / reveling in their patterns, / freeform, irreverent, illogical, / yet in their eccentric paths, / holy as a cathedral’s maze.”
A collection that beautifully finds the holy in the eccentric, the homeless, and the disregarded.