Who am I? Poems of self-identity: ‘Dining At The Shelter’ and ‘The Stranger in Room 26’

Miami Herald

April is National Poetry Month. We’ve invited readers from across the Central Coast to share their best original poems dealing with self-identity and diversity.

Here is a sampling of the poems. We will be posting new poems at throughout the month.

[»» Start at the beginning]




“Me, My Mom And The Stranger In Room 26”

By Sandi Pound, Atascadero

Each day I visit the woman I don’t like much,

petulant, angry, paranoid.

“I won’t eat!” stamped feet.

“What are you doing there!” demanded as I tidy up her space.

“They count your food here.”

“They take things while you’re sleeping.”

Then begins the weeping, with no tears.

“I won’t keep you. You should go.”

“Well, just go then...leave!”

Time is not perceived.

“Shame on you,” she whispers, smiling as I rise to depart.

I share a long embrace with the woman I don’t like much.

Not long ago, weary eyes still sparkled,

sense of humor sharp, rarely rankled.

The woman I don’t like much

gave all who knew her comfort,

love (non-judgmental),

a countenance of safe harbor.

She offered time and understanding,

thoughts of contemplation,

demanded payment naught.

Love, in spite of blood, was unconditional.

Taught me to accept without regret.

Each day I visit the woman I don’t like much.

~ ~ ~

“Dining At The Shelter”

By Cal Wilvert, San Luis Obispo

Had I seen her on the street

I’d have guessed teacher or librarian

Arriving at the end of the serving line

the slender, upper-middle aged woman

clean and well groomed

stood before me

as I volunteered at a homeless shelter

on a cold Sunday evening

She chose salads and soup

not the starchy entree I was dispensing

and ate quietly at the end of a table

her body slanting away from others

How thin the line

between server and served

~ ~ ~

“My Home Town”

By John Turrill, Arroyo Grande

Divided by the Housatonic River,

Kent, Connecticut

housed the rich and the poor

The rich from New York City

went to Kent School

to graduate into Ivy League

The poor were farmers

and the real poor,

employees of farmers

lived in an old tobacco barn

The train runs through the town and

behind our house, a white

clapboard four-story Victorian

first floor for my Dad, the town doctor

He was paid in chickens

during the Great Depression

Freight trains maintained

the town’s population, 1200 back then

Their roar awakened everyone at 3 am

There was nothing to do at that hour

except procreate.

The train still runs through at 3 am

and the population has grown

to three thousand

~ ~ ~

“From Shanghai”

By Nathan Spooner, Grover Beach

Lucy’s black flowing hair

tied with simple wooden beret

touches almost to her waist.

Her family fled Shanghai when

Mao’s army took over.

On the trans-Siberian railroad

to Europe and then further west

her family came to start anew

in America.

She, born much later in New York City,

growing tall and beautiful,

now walks by my side past loquat trees

all the way from China she says,

as we continue along Telegraph Avenue

toward the Cinema Theatre on a brisk

fall day in this town on the east side

of San Francisco bay.

Her dimpled smile takes us away

into quiet afternoon slow paced

fantasy real love adventure.

~ ~ ~


By Colleen M. Elam, Arroyo Grande

I have been looking for the name

of the Native Alaska Tlingit woman

who gave birth to my grandfather.

He was taken away as a small child

by his white father to a different world.

He didn’t know why he couldn’t sleep

on the floor in front of the fireplace.

This was one of the many things he did

that caused the new people to call him

a savage and a half-breed.

I am proud of my Native America roots

as it gives me compassion for everyone,

regardless of our ethnic difference.

I am sad that I never learned

my great grandmother’s name.

I will call her Raven —

which represents the Tlingit nation.

~ ~ ~

»» There’s more: Click here to read the next set of poems

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San Luis Obispo County poet laureate Jeanie Greensfelder reads her poem "At Sweet Springs Preserve," at the location of the same name, in March 2017.

»» More poems: In troubled times, SLO County poets seek to comfort and inspire