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Tuesday, June 07, 2011


by Lauren Schmidt

[Herbert] Bishop was one of three local homeless men to die violently in Eugene this year. Gerald Francis Wudarski, 53, died from bleeding inside his brain after a west Eugene man chased and assaulted him…James Pelfrey, 36, died in an August 25th stabbing near Eugene’s Washington-Jefferson Park…In another serious assault, a homeless man was set afire October 3rd as he walked on East Broadway near High Street.---The Register Guard, December 23rd, 2009

First, be a boy always too big for six:
too tall, too loud, too wide.

Wear out words like asshole, prick,
and dickhead, make your daddy proud.

Know what his beer tastes like.

Stink like cigarettes and sweat rings.

When you don’t get your way, say

            Don’t be such a scaredy cat. What he said to me
            when we were boys, six, with a box of matches
            behind the pool. I watched my neighbor snap
            the stick against the box strip. The flame hissed
            into a slight blast of gold. Before long, it malformed
            into a shattered face, climbed down the stick,
            almost singed his fingertips. He flung it
            behind the deck. I shivered, pretended to keep
            warm by shaking pool water from my ear.
            I tilted my head and hopped on one foot.

Be the first among us to spot her.

Watch her.

Pretend to love her, newly born,
like us, barely furred.

Squat down.

Make your shadow small.

Wait for her.

Whisper sweetness as she approaches
your hand, empty of its offering.

Watch her tongue curl against your fist
as if to open it.

Then be quick. Cat-like.

            He held the matchstick to me, Don’t be such a scaredy cat.
            Nearing my face, my neighbor taunted me,
            I could feel the pop and purr
            of the quivering flame and when I sprinted away,
            my blood gunning with dread,
            he clapped against me, dragged me
            across the gravel drive: my stomach, scraped
            and bloody. After a bath of Bactine
            and water from the hose, I pulled stones
            from my shredded skin, swore I’d never see him again.


Shed a heavy darkness.

Hop to your left foot.

Cock your right.

            Don’t be such a scaredy cat he said again,
            this time, to his cousin at age thirteen
            because None of the guns in the house
            are loaded.
Stones come easily when bubbled
            in peroxide, but a boy can’t empty bullets
            from his brain the way he shakes water
            from the inner-ear. I couldn’t help but shiver.
            I stood there, curious and waiting.

Draw your leg forth to lift and crush
the skull into a shattered blast of light.

Watch, wide-eyed, as blood hurls
through the sky.


Watch the corpse crash to the ground.

Or be a boy too scared to stop it.

Editor’s Note: This poem is part of a full-length collection of poetry based on the poet’s experience volunteering at a homeless kitchen, The Dining Room, in Eugene, Oregon, where several hate crimes occur each year against homeless men. The collection, Psalms of The Dining Room, is due out next year. The collection draws attention to an otherwise silenced problem: hate crimes against homeless victims.

Lauren Schmidt’s poems have been published or are forthcoming in The Progressive, Alaska Quarterly Review, New York Quarterly, Rattle, Nimrod, Fifth Wednesday Journal,  Ekphrasis Journal, Wicked Alice and other journals. Her poems have been selected as finalists for the 2008 and 2009 Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize, the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry and the Dancing Girl Press Chapbook Contest. Her awards include the So to Speak Poetry Prize and the Neil Postman Prize for Metaphor. In 2011, she was nominated for the Best New Poets Anthology. Her chapbook, The Voodoo Doll Parade (Main Street Rag), was selected as part of the 2011 Author’s Choice Chapbooks Series. Her second chapbook, Because Big Boobies Are Necessary (Amsterdam Press), and her first full-length collection, Psalms of The Dining Room (Wipf & Stock) are both forthcoming. Lauren Schmidt teaches writing at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, New Jersey.