Letter poem to my lover: Cops at home, your tenderness, and what Buber said about relationality.

“An equality of survival does not exist… 

we have both the responsibility and the ability 

to protect one another.” 

- Elaine Scary from Thinking In An Emergency


Dogs know sounds have stories. What’s the story in

increasing sirens sounding from the main street

one block up, building only to disappear? The neighbor 

dog knows when the story is worth howling about

when to stop

when to sleep again. 


One night in January I heard shouting outside my window:

just kill me sounding nearly inside.


You know the way

I curl my body around itself, the way I sink

into the couch, the way I play music over the rain, 

the way I keep the curtains open, the way I blow smoke 

wherever: you know the way I am home

sprigs of tiny pinecones still make me think of fairies.


A houseless human with buckets of belongings

settled under the plum canopy –

you know the plum tree on the median strip between 

the sidewalk and the street

the one with daffodils at its roots –

the houseless human, again

just kill me


You know the way 

my porch light fizzed out, security camera dead when

the wifi got bumped off as I cleaned, how light traps 

between the glass of the window and screen reflecting back 

– all makes me comfortably blind in the dark.

just kill me again.


I’m a scared woman now:

Scared Woman Lives Alone. Defined by Drew Barymore,

Audrey Hepburn, Liv Tyler in the movies – how easily 

my body plays in terror. who is responsible 

for that?


I don’t know if you notice how the plum tree has leaned 

and reached North considerably

since the pandemic started. some neighbors now hunch 

to follow the sidewalk under reaching plumed limbs – is 

that my tree to trim? On the median? 

I should call the city


regardless, I had to squint to see 

the shadow of leaning plums overlaid by shadows

of body and buckets. Squint to see the houseless human

was not at my window and still, mumbling enough

for my terror alone.


I told you how, when the 6 and 9 year old neighbors next door 

fight, I nod along with their grievances as I wash 

the dishes. What 

is alone? 


The neighbor texts: her husband already called the cops 

who came and just left this 

houseless human: only nuisance, not crime

as far as the cops created


buckets of belongings under

the overgrown canopy of plum brush.

How can I call this human 

houseless when

the plum is keeping him dry?


We have so many synonyms 

for banish.




Buber defined relationality by that which 

we call you and that which we call it. he said 

I am nothing in the face of you, only what we 

create relationally. however, it 

merely replicates

objects for consumption – which shelf

will you put it on? There: right next 

to the other one.


Did you ever see a bird get trapped in 

the cell block? how hard did you 

regard that bird’s freedom? how hard did you 

work to remove the barrier he bumped against?


Why does prison still feel like home. 




I picked up food from my favorite restaurant just 

after open. The owner bristled

alert: eyes at the shop window. She explained how a 

houseless human who’d slept under the entrance awning 

for years –

now declining in his connection to time and space – 


demanded his room

at the Hotel Smeede. Shaken, she watched the window

troubled by her options: it’s troubling, she said.


Did you ever end up witnessing how a human shakes

when a houseless human moves reality? Insisting


if you ever get a house you’ll be just: human. we 

don’t say housed human. We’ve named it wrong.


With my food I leave the restaurant through the alley

walking to work. Chipping paint on the building’s 

brick in the alley reads:






Who is this houseless human according to his life?




My neighbor called the cops on you a different time.

One way or another someone is always sent packing

they didn’t check to see who is good –

neighbors or cops. There are lessons of dominance 



Who says

this neighborhood isn’t for you. By whatever

route you wandered in, we’ll let you pass

back through: generously. The Hotel Smeede 

is now only novel-vintage soothing the discomfort

of old shit. If we could, we might 

erase history. Easier

than trying to convince houseless humans that awnings 

and plum trees

aren’t home anymore. Judgment and definition

are different things.


In prison, are you houseless or at home in a cage?




Early Sunday morning on the front porch

I see the neighbor come outside in her 

plush robe – the weather is turning 

the way she holds the fuzzy collar

around her neck.


She scowls around: is there

a nuisance or an intruder on her brow. She 

goes back inside. Nuisance, I think. 

A short time later I hear a Kazoo 

I’m not sure. An early nuisance sound 

like a middle-school jazz band solo. It stops and starts

building to a confused speculating threat in my head: I become 

hostile to sound

foreign at home. There’s threat in the question who has time to play

the kazoo? 


I know the neighbor’s football scream.

The sounds of the neighbor’s lawn service. 

My cat howling is not an abandoned 

baby. I know the sound

of the garbage truck a block down in my sleep. 


Do you remember learning math on an overhead projector? One 

transparent layer of problems

another transparent layer of answers. Another 

to show your work

then wipe it away. 


How we write on windows

and draw the blinds.


What world are you living in? Pen smears 

stain transparency. It’s getting so cloudy

on the sidewalk

when did you decide to make eye contact or not?

When did you decide what danger looks like.




I was suddenly talking with friends on zoom

about suicidal ideation. There’s so much 

unison, we laugh. There’s unison in 

the relationship between suicidality and homicidality –

the fuck-its I’ve called it since 22. There’s unison in 

the school-psychologist naming fuck-its in school. 

There’s unison in witness: 


You remind me how important it is

to survive all this.




A stripper-writer who I follow on Instagram: her partner killed 

himself with a gun nearly a year into this pandemic.

I imagine I might see the loss in her

pole work like her pictures. Functional not stable

she says about society, herself, other things:

capitalism is already killing us, please don’t 

throw dollars at her face.  


You know about prison suicide pacts: Stay out

of the cell when your cellie gives the nod so 

you’re not called a murderer. We want

to die without casualties. 


Anway, what do I need so this doesn’t feel 

like birds running into glass? Everywhere: reactive

violence feels like a premature turn toward

the feeling of even ground. We’re slipping –

slipped at the same pinch point. 

Tethered together over and over.


Will you tell me when you’re home?

When is it well and level here? You decide 

it’s urgent to be home again since my grief 

is coming home. Are we wrong when we call four walls