by Taylor Graham
Long bare room, three rows of cots
with Army blankets (gray), cots with men
sleeping sprawled or fetal, or sitting
head in hands looking down at
linoleum spotless-shiny floor (gray).
He’s been there. Bussed
with the others from street corners,
edge of woods, wherever
a man’s allowed to spend an hour
neither working nor buying;
herded in, where it’s safe and warm;
fed a nutritious meal (aftertaste
of gray). Lights out; too many men
breathing. Too hot. Staring at a ceiling
that keeps out rain and stars.
November. He’s stood at the corner
with the others. The bus is gray.
He stands now at the edge
of a weedy nook. Beyond, cottonwoods
and willows spending their last gold
coins beside a trickle of undammed
water; blackbirds singing the last day-
light. And then the dimming of
colors into black. Cold enough to
sleep, shivering in dreams under stars.
For many years, Taylor Graham and her husband, Hatch, have been volunteer search-and-rescue dog handlers, first in Alaska, then Virginia, and for the past 30 years in Northern California. She’s responded to hundreds of missions for lost children and elderly walkaways, missing hikers and hunters, victims of avalanche, drowning, homicide, and urban disasters. In 1985 she and her dog spent five days searching for earthquake survivors in Mexico City. Searches and training exercises have taken her to homeless camps in the wooded and brushy fringes of our cities. Her poems have appeared in American Literary Review, The Iowa Review, The New York Quarterly, Poetry International, Southern Humanities Review, and elsewhere. She’s included in the anthology California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present. Her book The Downstairs Dance Floor was awarded the Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize. Her latest book is Walking with Elihu, poems on the American peace activist Elihu Burritt, also known as the Learned Blacksmith. You can find her on the web at www.somersetsunset.net