9 Months Into Touch-Free Living, What Shall We Birth?

9 Months Into Touch-Free Living, What Shall We Birth?

9 Months Into Touch-Free Living, What Shall We Birth?

“Thanks Forgiving,” a poem.

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Guilford, Vt.—Once the Lamplighter Inn, a motel that had fallen into disrepair on the edge of Brattleboro, Great River Terrace is a permanently affordable housing community of people who have experienced homelessness. It is a “housing first” residence, the first of its kind in Vermont. There is no obligation to be “clean and sober” to living there. Senator Bernie Sanders wrote at its opening that the residence “will allow Vermonters struggling with complex challenges to live with stability and dignity.” I have been visiting and writing with residents since the spring of 2019. As an “embedded writer,” I listen, encourage, write, collaborate, and share my own poems.

Our project “Face of Home” began spontaneously when a resident saw a portrait painted by a local artist. She invited the artist and her friends to paint at Great River Terrace. Each week, while the artists painted, a resident would sit and talk with me in the common room. I typed in a rough shorthand, and in the weeks following we edited the text together.

I got here in September. I get choked up talking about it.
I got used to losing everything, and finally, I lost my hope.
After living in other people’s houses and sleeping outside,
I had a hard time saying, Meet at my apartment.
It seemed weird, awkward, unfamiliar.
It took practice. Come to my place.
It was like learning a new word: HOME.
–Joe S.

Covid-19 interrupted this project. Spring and summer, we stayed away. In September, we arranged to meet, masked, outside until the cold made it impossible to paint and type. 

My friends at Green River Terrace are striving to reinvent their lives after traumas that led to homelessness and their existence in survival mode, sometimes for years. We try to stay in touch, “liking” and commenting on Facebook memes and sorrows.

In the common
room, your portraits
bloom, alive and
warm.
 
Little did we know
how long the longing
would go
on.
 
Dry wind blew.
The garden
pulled through,
giving and
forgiving.
 
I landed on your
Timeline
to ask how you
were living.
 
In autumn,
masked, on the
patio,
the artists drew,
we spoke.
 
I memorized your
faces
and stories,
wreathed by
smoke.
 
             *
 
That regal tree on
the lawn
with a name
nobody knew
 
stays rooted here,
and strong
though her gold
leaves shook and
flew.
 
Be easy now,
belong.
Let her mom-arms
shelter you.


Scenes From a Pandemic is a collaboration between The Nation and Kopkind, a living memorial to radical journalist Andrew Kopkind, who from 1982–94 was the magazine’s chief political writer and analyst. This series of dispatches from Kopkind’s far-flung network of participants, advisers, guests, and friends is edited by Nation contributor and Kopkind program director JoAnn Wypijewski, and appears weekly on thenation.com and kopkind.org.

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