Submission Guidelines: Send unpublished poems in the body of an email (NO ATTACHMENTS) to nvneditor[at] No simultaneous submissions. Use "Verse News Submission" as the subject line. Send a brief bio. No payment. Authors retain all rights after 1st-time appearance here. Scroll down the right sidebar for the fine print.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015


by Skaidrite Stelzer

Image source: Windsor Star

The old man smokes on the bus bench
at the Cherry Street Mission in Toledo, Ohio,
hunched over in permanent posture
while the radio blares out against him--
hate speech still allowed against anyone
who can’t make a living. 
The minimum wage shrunken over the years.
“See a coin and pick it up.” 
And the smacking of lips by observers
because he must drink.
Begging is outlawed now in most places,
though I see it discreetly hidden behind signs.
“Will work for food.”
I give her a dollar.
In the East Village, years ago,
a homeless man slept each night in the back
of our pick-up truck.
Others ran to clean our windshields
with dirty rags.
Vying for coins, jostling against each other:
the ballet of poverty.
“All that day you’ll have good luck.”
The majority rules,
making the rich even richer,
giving them more and more
as we hide the poor.
There are still neglected alleys.
Some freeze each winter but we don’t
see their names in the newspapers.
“See a coin and let it lay.”
A minimal wage for a minimal day
cannot buy a home or a room.
I see him scrounging the gutters for cigarette butts,
and when I look at him he gestures and yells.
“Out of his mind,” I have told myself.
Yet he earns his morning coffee.
He cleans the sidewalk of the Sufficient Grounds
coffee shop on Central Street.
No job, no money, but here’s his warm reward.
“What are you looking at?”
or a greeting; it varies.
Then he freezes one winter
like the rest.
Because he was somebody’s son,
there is a small obituary in The Blade.
“You’ll have bad luck all that day.”
The radio blares its message.
The rich need more money.
They must have more money.
One day they are bound to share.
“See a coin and pick it up.”
The frozen sidewalk has no eyes.

Skaidrite Stelzer is a poet and teacher living in Toledo Ohio.  A post-WWII refugee, she grew up in Michigan as a displaced person. Her poems have appeared in many journals, including the Georgetown Review, Eclipse, The Fourth River and The Baltimore Review. She teaches a variety of writing and literature courses at The University of Toledo.