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 The ethic of every day politics
Timothy Trenkle 7:18 p.m. CST February 9, 2016

One day I drove through an alley in Dubuque where I saw a gray bearded, anorexic man with dark circles under his eyes. He bent over a garbage can. He held a plastic Wal-Mart bag at his side while he rifled through the debris, leftovers, paper, gruel and cat litter. I drove around the block, later finding the gaunt man with the jacket many sizes too big for him bending over another shriveled, caved-in garbage can.

The messages in the news are about self, money and how money buys happiness. Much of the message includes that loud song about escape, "turn away, turn away," the refrain, then, that illusory power we are prompted to coil around like rabbits at a lettuce patch — the power of choice. Everywhere the choice excludes moral value and instead says "buy, buy, buy."

What of genuineness, nonpossessiveness, caring and sharing — places where trust grows?

I ask if the invisible people of the street have become objects, nonentities like ghosts that shuffle through the blurred realities of poverty. I hear one say that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps. “Why, I did it and he can too!”

When I enter the next junction of alley and street following my turn around, I spy the man standing under a stairwell. I pull away from a stop sign while the tired old man reaches his hands into a dark, crumpled can. I imagine he has a route he follows like a vendor of potato chips who moves from retail store to big box store arranging the shelves.

This old man’s employer is us. His poverty is dark and we turn away. Have you ever asked if everyone as a part of the world, in some deep way is complicit, despite innocence?

When I hear the sing-song refrain about happiness and power I want to drive the singers to the streets where the ragged live. Life includes suffering. We are all a part of that world. Wealthy patrons of the local casino walk past the homeless at the Rescue Mission barely nodding affirmation to their existence. Every day of every year is an election cycle. Politics is always about morality.

Have you never seen a homeless man share his nickels and dimes with a child? Once you reach the bottom, stripped of the compulsions to greed and pleasure outlined in the messages of the world, the circus becomes real. The authenticism of that tired cliche — it is what it is — is alive in the homeless and suffering. The homeless are genuine, a virtue worthy of a voice.

Curious about politics, walk the street. The poor know about character, for it is in standing up to suffering, here. Society turns away, yet what is great about America, again and again — we care for the least among us. When we get real, we see without conditions the worth each of us has; we find unconditional regard for each other.

He begins at an end of Central Avenue in Dubuque then strides through the alleys till he’s done. There must be another old man that has a territory that meets the thin old man I saw, and I wonder how they create their routes and spaces. I wonder if anyone else sees them.

The old men who rummage in the street at the dumpsters are the souls of everyone. They’re invisible and their sustenance depends upon others. In politics and morality we all depend on each other.
The marginalized need advocacy, and unless you are asleep, you know the majority of us are a step away, without an advocate. Millions abide by the warmth of a heating duct in the freezing winters and the providence of the refuse and throw away things that show up near every corner and close to each city, everywhere. Is it wrong to ask about the politics of our morality, and is it right to ask about the morals of our politicians?

TIMOTHY TRENKLE, of Dubuque, teaches writing and psychology. He is also the author of "Kings of the Narrow Gate," a book about inequality in Iowa.

The Homeless Woman

{ DesMoines Register October 29, 2015.}

The face of homelessness smiles at living under a river bluff to keep out of the wind and then speaks, "I'm tough." The face at the Dubuque Rescue Mission is filled with need.

She won't tell me her name, but I guess she's about 40. The lines around her eyes have begun and her forehead wrinkles, but the smile lines haven't started. Her blond hair sails away from her beautiful oval face.

"You are so sweet," I say and she smiles from her soul and says, "Love love love." She calls me Saint Man.

I wonder where her trauma began and why no one stopped her attacker, how she came here and about her family. Someone misses her; a child, a spouse, a parent, a friend. Her beauty is real despite the wind burn and the dark circles under her eyes. There is no way to measure the length of her homelessness. One cannot count the wrinkles or the foggy pain that erupts when she speaks. She speaks in circles, sometimes confusing her listeners.

"Can I leave my stuff here?" She asks with a brave smile and she shares that she was out all night "under a bush." She tells me it was better than a shelter because her stuff won't get stolen. She trusts no one, but with me she's made a step forward, Like one that was beaten, she moves with vigilance and a stark readiness for trouble.

She began coming to our lunch meals in early September and I asked her about housing. She said she was alright. She kept coming for lunch and little by little we engaged ourselves to a secret trust. Once she had a temper tantrum after someone accused her of stealing a baseball cap to keep her head dry and warm. She gave the cap back after she said she was the kitchen manager.

I gave her my name. She shared her name then she took another name. The signal that she was lost grew apparent. Consciousness is like a stream and after trauma some people's consciousness is broken as if the stream has been damned somewhere. I called her by name one day and she stared hard upon my smile and drew it away by telling me her real name was...

"I don't know who you were speaking to," she said. Two names is tough. Homeless without a coherent identity.

Her homeless face was burned by the wind and tears fall often from her tired, slitted eyes. She also laughs out of place. The circles under those lost eyes are like bruises that came from the fist of unjustice. She said she was waiting for her husband and son and it was only the bank card that was lost. She said she was a nurse.

Children are sitting nearby her, but they are engulfed by their innocent desire to make applesauce and throw the lettuce from our garden into bowls for salad. They're making the lunch today.

"Can I get some socks?" She asked and I said, of course, we'll go downstairs to the Thrift Store after you eat. She seemed famished and used bread to soak up tomato sauce from her spaghetti and meatballs.

My friend stares from hurt, feral eyes and I see the light yet and the integrity. I know she has been loved and she is loving. She pats a child's head and the two of them meet at the space of understanding. At the mission we say Christ is here like spirit explains things and with the woman and the child there is no better way to see what goes between them.

The harvest moon rose nights ago. The children come now each year to help with the produce and they speak to the homeless as they help with meals. They come from the lower SES, that's the acronym the social scientists who have never walked to poor sidewalks use to describe poverty. The books fill with the facts: poorer schools, lesser health care, more violence, greater mental health dysfunction, fewer intact families, poorer hygiene, more teen pregnancies, greater alcohol and drug addiction numbers, less societal participation and earlier mortality. These children cannot expect to live as long as children from the upper class. Cringe at the thought that another child will hurt like the sad woman does.

Day after day for weeks I asked the woman if she'll let me find her a place. Some nights she sleeps by the chickens we keep in the garden. In the third week of October a tourist sees her and writes a check. He instructs me to call him. He wants to pay for an apartment for her for the winter. Frost has come with heavy swipes of freezing. Finally, the blond, sad eyed woman agrees: "I'll stay with you in the room you have."

We arrange our sorting room and bring her a cot and snacks. She begins her winter on Oct. 23, Friday, in the basement, her garbage bags filled with her worldly possessions set by her side.

More of the faces of homelessness have come from the poor quarters than anywhere else. The sadness lays its heavy links on every continent like a chain across the world. The little children smile and giggle and play in our dining room. Who among them asks for a life under the Mississippi River bluffs? The sad woman smiles as we tuck her in the first place she has felt safe for a long, long time.


Tragedy reminds us life is about choices

Timothy Trenkle, A Better Iowa contributor 5:18 p.m. CDT October 6, 2015

Our community college is proudly celebrating its 50th year. The violence and our diligence to confronting that grows, and when we sit in the Behavioral Intervention Team meetings to discuss the student with the aluminum foil on his head and the student who drew pictures of a gun and himself and an instructor we review psychological information and escape routes. In the beginnings of our human relations class we talk about the violence in the news.

On a cool Friday after another mass killing a student asked about the Oregon shooting. She participated with a cup of coffee and a thoughtful look of apprehension. Why so much killing, so much madness?

The class is about our relationships. We planned to talk about communication Friday, but the topic is needful and hurts and frightens. The topic is clearer than we admit.

We agree there's a lot of anger. We agree anger is natural and cannot be denied because somewhere in the coursing day it will leak and find expression. It's tied to our conscience. We review right and wrong.

I don't refer the students to the Issues in Domestic Violence class because we couldn't get enough people to enroll this year. Why less interest but more extreme violence? Last year we began that class about violence discussing our nature as people, about our society and the history we have accumulated.

There is more violence. The research is stark.

We acknowledge this violence is both condoned and encouraged, and the students don't blink. No one ever blinks. Nor argues or complains. It's a cliche and a point that is debated into a yes or no, in favor or not. More guns.

More guns, more anger, more defense, but doubt because even the deer hunter forgets about risks and tragedy along the path of blood. We talk about the sanctity of life in psychology class. On Sundays we celebrate it. On birthdays we celebrate it. Black lives matter and now understood and morphed into all lives matter. And we look at that. In our landscape, life includes the little red and black Box Elder bugs looking for places behind the barn siding for comfort as the winter approaches. Each bug is sacred as a life. One in three households has a gun.

In our conversations as neighbors and friends we seldom consider the sanctity of life. We seldom recognize that the animating force we acknowledge in our constitution is God's. It's debated but excluded from our conversation until an event prompts us. Life matters. We should feel saddened that Jeb Bush said about the Oregon shooting, "stuff happens."

Turning to the Bible we say there's lots of killing and violence in the text, as if God gave us approval for this. Who authored that God was OK with us killing each other God tells Joshua, "Go in and clean house and don't leave anything breathing." Is that a recipe or a lesson plan? We move on.

In cases of mass killing we have a ritual from media. It drowns us in the blood and tears and isolation. One life matters, but killing's happening everywhere, every day. Desensitized we go about our daily lives.

Media starts its reel of news and its first scenes; they're like the scenes of a Tarrantino movie, designed to get our attention, then basking in the victim versus predator light. It's not light.

When my father returned from World War II, the family said he had changed. I remember his rage at the dinner table, but he entranced me. It seemed that holding onto that power could hold captive any audience. My brother said dad was charasmatic. It was rage and he never recovered.

Not everyone likes the argument that the more we see the more we do, but I am a subscriber. When there's a stream of violence those people who are tough about it are like me years ago, they want to grab that power. Buy a gun. But it's not in a rage or a gun, our having been battered or lonely or mentally ill or any other theoretical point though the points have reams of research as evidence yeah or nay.

It's what Frankl said after my father and other Rangers opened up the killing camp at Dachau where he had been held. It's about choice, he said. We choose what we value and the virtues we live. The choice is to hold life as dearly and completely and with all of our media and conversation as we can.

Will Dubuque be the Ferguson of Iowa?
Timothy Trenkle, A Better Iowa contributor September 25, 2015                
In 2010, Dubuque reviewed certain policies and practices of Ferguson, Mo. Dubuque reviewed and amended its management of HUD's Section 8 Plan “…to respond to issues as they are identified.”

They purged African Americans. They ignored justice.

This agenda appeared early in Dubuque. In 1863, despite the Emancipation Proclamation, a steamboat carrying freed slaves was prevented entry to the city's harbor. In 1877, the Board of Education denied blacks admission to the schools. In 1906 and 1907 blacks were refused hotel accommodations. The Ku Klux Klan held a multistate Konklave in Dubuque in 1925.

Commentators in 2015 will say forget the past, why dwell? Commentators will deny the facts.

Year after year an island of white supremacy dictated. In 1969, Loras College students charged the school with racism. In 1989, a charred cross was found in the debris of a burned garage. Scribbled upon that cross: "The KKK lives."

In a 21 page letter to Dubuque’s mayor in 2013, the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development cited cross burnings, and said the city “discriminated against African Americans.”

The federal government noted a 2007 stabbing, when voices screamed “White Power!” and "Long live the KKK” from cars passing a murder scene.

Dubuque's white agenda mimicked Ferguson. It included police profiling, segregation, minimal black ownership of homes and businesses and a racial legacy of exclusion and prejudice.

Federal investigators did not uncover meetings between officials of the two cities, but the agendas that broke civil rights laws were familiar.

In June 2011, HUD completed a civil rights review of Dubuque.

HUD said Dubuque’s history of racial tension included 22 cross burnings and 11 other racial incidents from October 1989 to December 1991.

The government found evidence "Dubuque intended to exclude persons from participation in its Section 8 program.”

The federal government noted, "The compliance review resulted in the observation that the city failed to maintain a uniform record keeping practice and failed to preserve wait list data for compliance review purposes."

HUD will call it racism. Residents will hail the plan to purge blacks.

Their broken windows policy of attending to every possible breach of behavior allowed the police to stop anyone, anywhere, anytime. The police surrounded one tavern on four corners prior to closing with officers standing at the door with their hands on their hips, batons showing, and a fifth squad stationed at curbside. As young black college students left they were often accused of public intoxication.

Police boldness included advice to the owner to change the music from hip hop to rock and roll to remove the "problem."

The federal government placed city manager Michael Van Milligen, a former cop, in the middle.

They noted that he exerted "great control over city operations." They wrote "the city discriminated on the ground of race in the administration of its Section 8 program."

A pamphlet presented to a Dubuque task force on Ferguson's Ordinance 2009 – 3417,  about building requirements and police powers, implied controlling the population. The Dubuque Telegraph Herald pointed to the association between the black population and HUD Section 8.

In a dark blue folder at a Dubuque Safe Community Task Force meeting, pages from Ferguson spilled across a pocket of information.

The federal government found, "In response to the community's fears, the city convened a public forum, created a Safe Community Task Force" and held closed meeting.

In task force notes people are referred to as "dregs."

The government said they had obtained an internal memo that said "the intent in making these changes was to close the wait list to applicants from out of state, so as to address the community's perceptions on crime."

In 2010, 90 percent of all African-American applications to Section 8 were resolved by "purging (as opposed to reaching resolution through receipt of a voucher or simple remaining on the waitlist)."

Dubuque’s administrators were not indicted.

The federal government wrote that "the city eliminated an avenue via which families from Chicago would qualify."

In a point system, Dubuque created a preference for residents. A special officer was assigned to the Section 8 program. His task was to watch segregated neighborhoods. The city reported that more than 560 investigations were done with more than 170 terminations.

For the city, judgments were “now considered the same as convictions.”

The local entertainment newspaper 365 Inc. wrote that Dubuque was "The Envy of America."  In 2015, headlines about police brutality, lawsuits against the city and increased incidents of gunfire began to reset the dialogue. The agenda against the black population in America again revisited the first city in Iowa.

Thank you DesMoines Register
Rescue Mission group reflects on value of money, love
Timothy Trenkle, A Better Iowa contributor 11:54 a.m. CDT August 27, 2015

Eleven of us men met in the long dining room of the Rescue Mission in Dubuque. One was fresh from prison, one suffered abominable childhood abuse, one wore a moth eaten hoodie, having hitch hiked from Wisconsin; one was a young black man who knew discrimination; one was a veteran, waiting on the VA to help him; one was an addict, fighting that good fight to re-enter the world; one lost his home in a divorce; one was chronic with bad decisions, debilitated by alcohol and drugs; one was afflicted with mental illness; one had multiple sclerosis, sitting in a wheelchair with his trusted service dog at his side;  one was enfeebled by the job market and loss of employment, marginalized by part-time jobs that did not support renting or owning a home.

Twenty five percent of us work, but are unable to call any place home. We are neighbors and friends and family and we hurt and feel shame and love. Research has shown that people look past us, as if we do not exist.Our therapy group meets weekly to discuss our behavior, thinking and feelings. We are as diverse as society and as hampered by the fates as everyone. As one of us said, "There's only so much a man can do."

I shared that when homeless, I once collected little, silver roadside stones, the ones that shimmer by the highway shoulder, because I wanted to remember where I had been.

In our meeting, we confronted the difference between rational and irrational thought. Most people have worn the irrational cap in their lives.

"If you think everyone has to like you or life stinks, you are thinking irrationally," I told the group. "And if you think you must be a success by the world's definition of money or it's a catastrophe, you're being irrational."

One scratched his head. What about money?

The money question preys on us. If money makes you who you are, if you weigh yourself against others, saying, "I have more money than so and so and I'm better than him," then you missed the point.

Money should not define a person. Yet in America we readily look at our savings account to feel good about ourselves. Possessions define character. Virtue has meant less than possession and finances.

"Money can't buy you love," one said. Thank you John Lennon and all the poets.

So the 11 of us flowed into the deeper edges of living. What is love?

The black youth said he didn't know. The man with the raggedy hoodie said it was that best part of him, that best part within. The veteran said he didn't believe love existed but caring did. Across the circle three men mimicked each other, saying everyone knew how much the veteran cared.

A man in the corner went to the Bible and noted the types of love therein. He asked us all to open the book and try it.

The man with the Iowa Hawkeye cap said love was happiness. We all nodded, yeah, it's true.

Finally, as the hour came to an end, the man struck by MS raised his head. He mumbled, "Love is what restores me."

Psychologists will say that is true. It is motive and well being, solace and connection. Some can say it is irrational, but it is what we need. For example, children raised without love develop slower, having life long issues about trust and self. People who spend too much time without the human touch exhibit psychosis. Homelessness fits into that acre of loneliness, life lived without love.

In that 7 o'clock hour with the sun setting at the Rescue Mission windows, we who have been stung and are feeling the sting of life on the margins, standing on the corner, walking in the shadow, we agreed on the universality of that. Love matters.


Timothy Trenkle, of Dubuque, teaches writing and psychology at Northeast Iowa Community College and volunteers at the Dubuque Rescue Mission. Click here to read more of his work.

                                  Dubuque mothers teach children to ‘beware of police’

Timothy Trenkle, A Better Iowa contributor  July 16, 2015

DUBUQUE, Ia. – “Forever, it has been forever, that we teach our children to beware of police,” the elder mother, Sandy Vassel, said. The recent history of racial tension across the country rose like smoke plumes.

The next speaker flared her nostrils. She had come from Chicago.

“Everywhere we go, they comin’,” 20-year-old Nina Woods added.

She spoke about race. She felt disenfranchised. Her soft, striped orange blouse fit loosely, but she tensed at the shoulders. She tried to smile.

Three African-American women sat in a warm leather sofa. A calm yellow sunshine flowed into the room. The front door opened to the Iowa breezes.

Vassel smiled. She said the police had knocked on her door at 2:30 in the morning. They were looking for a black man. She complained, she said.

“Every time friends want to visit they park a block away from my home. They don’t want to be harassed by the police,” Woods responded.

“They put a hole in the baby’s wall,” after asking to enter her apartment and search for her boyfriend, Woods said.

The conversation filled the room with their frowns of confusion. The gentle tugs of another baby interrupted their thoughts and the second child was pulled to the sofa. Her mom cradled her.

“They make you feel like you don’t belong, like you can’t succeed here,” Woods said about the police in Dubuque.

“The worst part is they do it in front of your kids,” Vassel said. The three women said they felt shame and humiliation.

They each said the police had called crudely as they drove by. “‘Get your ass off the street,’ is what they yelled,” Jadaa Christen said.

“And how do you explain that to your children?” Vassel asked.

The women were asked to be in court in Cedar Rapids in June after witnessing a shooting. They didn’t go, but described what the saw and took part in a deposition.

“There were about 80 people at Jackson Park (in Dubuque). About twenty children. We brought tacos. We weren’t there for three minutes, and they (young men with guns) were getting out of their cars. One young man took his shirt off.”

As Vassel spoke, the other mothers cradled their babies and nodded.

“I’m looking around,” she said, “And another young man asks if the first man wants to fight.”

Immediately guns were drawn. Shots were fired.

Christen opened her eyes in wide disbelief. She said, “Me and my baby were right there.” She extended her arms to show the gun went off within feet of her and the toddler.

“They have been feuding for more than a year,” Vassel said. “Last night a shotgun went off.”

Woods reflected and looked to the other two as if this part of the Iowa Field of Dreams was incomprehensible.

“They get revenue from us,” Vassel said, echoing complaints across the nation.

“Everyone is not going to take this brutality,” one of them said.


Spring brings migration of homeless across Iowa

                                       Thank you DesMoines Register

            During the second week in May the frost sprinkled the grass of the highway berm that rolled down to the flat streets in Dubuque. Red girders at the construction site exposed rust to the dawn’s light. One laborer in a hard hat turned by a stop sign and frowned. A cough had echoed from the highway bridge.

Under the bridge a toothless man cleared his throat. Blue and yellow nylons bags were strewn for 25 feet in a low ceiling where pylons began the overpass.

A car stopped and the driver parked and he walked to the bottom of the embankment and yelled to the white whiskered man, huddled by his belongings.

“Are you OK?”

“Fine,” the hunched man replied and waved the other man away.

At the curb where the driver paused a wobbly bike was strapped to a speed limit sign. Bungee cords tied bags that were slung over the handlebars.

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In May, some of the many thousands of homeless are moving. They cross Iowa and traverse the rivers, hitch across the two lanes and bike from city to city. They are a fraction of the unsheltered population and they are often independent.

Sometimes a tragedy has brought them to the road, and sometimes they have chosen it. Many are veterans and many are suffering from delusions and afflicted by mental health demons, hurting conditions you do not want to wish for anyone, like schizophrenia and addiction.

After bicycling to local places where food will be available, the homeless man will return to his quarters under the bridge and sit on a green, nylon golf chair. His parka will keep him from the chill and his cap will keep his head warm.

Sometime about 5 o’clock I checked on him, to ask, and what do you ask of an old homeless man, suffering in the cold mornings, alone under a bridge, the rumbling of overhead truck traffic a constant companion?

“Everything alright?”

I climbed the cement banks to talk. He said he was fine. I recognized him from the Rescue Mission where I serve meals, and I reminded him that he had a bed there, if he chose.

“No,” he said, “They don’t want me there. I told another guy off, started a fight ... know that, and I’m an honest man, so they don’t let me stay. I’m doin’ fine.”

I stood for a moment, compelled by his story, as if I would find the next question hanging in the cold air and pitch it to him and he might hear me and wrap his life’s possessions together then follow me to a warm bed and a place where others should offer conversation and the kindness all of us need. I couldn’t find the question.

“You know there’s a policeman across the street. You can see him if you drop down a little.” I wanted him to be careful.

His white whiskers shone in the shadow and he smiled and said he knew about the cop and he was on good terms with the man.

“Talk to him all the time.”

The smells of bread from a nearby bakery drafted into the late afternoon. I approached closer and shook his hand and repeated my concerns.

“I’m goin’ to Wisconsin in a few days,” he said, as if to dispel my worry, like he understood how it hurt to see someone alone and so distant, outside the village of humanity, hidden under a bridge, within shouting of hundreds of other people but unable to touch the other souls, without someone to think of him or to care if he lived or died.



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                                  The gift of Friday

                                            April 8, 2015.


The air at the stairwell smelled like onions and beer and the warm smell was ignored. It was Good Friday. A large turnout was expected at the Rescue Mission in Dubuque for lunch.

Middle aged believers had walked the Stations of the Cross, but their numbers were small and the joy of their faith less than it had been. The elders remembered when the world was different and their sentimentality for Easter grew as a memory of simple loves and childhood joys. Clouds spilled across the river and a chill enveloped the street.

"Hey man," one of the white haired men yelled across the white and blue tiled floor.

The elders stood with their backs as straight as possible and chuckled while they waited for the lunch line to grow.

"Who's taking the salad?" said the elfin sized elder.

The short man stood between the salad tray and the spaghetti. His ears were small fans flopping against his temples.

"I thought you were doing the salad," the white bearded man claimed.

"I will then but what about the chocolates?"

"You get those too."

"Who's doing the prayer?"

"He does," the big eared man said and pointed to the balding man who stood at the counter.

"Hey!" the blustery man shouted. "Don't do a long sermon, we got to get out of here by noon!"

The old men laughed. Each slipped the plastic gloves over their hands and walked to the food stations to pass out the food.

Two dozen men, women and children stood with their shoulders to the wall, faces forward and in a straight line following the tray dispenser. Two little boys kept their heads down and were smiling at what their mom had said. Chocolates at the deli waved through their minds and they behaved. The bunnies and bears were hidden in a deep cup and they knew how the fishing for sweet chocolate meant patience.

The spring wind had begun. The clouds sailed in high mountain peaks in white and silver. Cold would come and warmth tease but the freezing depth of winter had been broken into shards that were melting. The earth had begun to smell and it was sweet and loving.

The hungry moved like a battalion, organized, waiting, vigilant and strong. After the first 10 people, Kevin marked a spot at the counter and he placed his tray on it.

"Yeah, I'll take a little salad," he said without remorse. "And the spaghetti and barbecue meat balls. Oh yeah, the garlic bread, sure, I'll take garlic bread. Hey thanks."

And Kevin was served and one of the old men serving asked him about a dog.

"I can wait," the thin faced, dry skinned man answered, and he paced off 20 steps to the long table.

"The Humane Society is looking for a dog for Kevin. He had Huskies. They'll find one."

Kevin sat and waved back to the elders and began to scoop the tomato pasted noodles, twisting and spinning them onto his fork.

"He had two dogs for a while you know," the tall white frocked man said. "He lives on a farmer's field, homeless for twelve years."

"Man ... the lives we lead," the fan eared elf said and nodded out to the dining table where Kevin sat.

Good Friday's meal marched across their memories, and the children giggled with their little chocolates and their mothers smiled. The old men frowned with the knowledge of watching but the 50 people who ate at the mission were standing in a sacred manner that words would not describe. In their hearty appetites and tender grins, they shared what they had, which was all of themselves.

Of everything anyone has to give, there is no more than that.

                              Thanks to the DesMoines Register  

                                      March 12, 2015

                                 Ode to a Last Iowa farmer

The old man was born on a hill west of Davenport. The livestock clamored from an 1820 barn outside the bedroom window. He remembered when he was a boy, and the laborers dug trenches for the tarred pine poles that would electrify the state. The land still held arrow heads, and he saved a tomahawk he'd found creek side. He was a son of the soil.

He was born in 1920, before penicillin, insulin, frozen food, canned beer and bubble gum. Radios were first sold that year.

While he laid in a hospital bed at age 94, his nephew, hoping to raise his spirits, tip toed to his side then whispered, "Uncle Les, there's a light snow so we can follow the rabbit tracks. I'll pick you up at nine in the morning." That was Iowa life.

On a Wednesday, the doctor said he wouldn't make it. Congestive heart failure, clots and age would overtake the hard working old man. His family carried him home, as he had asked. He died five days later, on the farm where he came into the world.

His granddaughter said, as if confessing, that when she fed her four children Iowa sweet corn they wouldn't eat it, "Unless it was 'grampa's corn.'" She tried to fool them but… 'grampa's corn' was irreplaceable.

He began farming with horse and mule, and he learned most of what he knew from parents and grandparents. The lessons of nature and that plane of hillside where he toiled gave him the knowledge that wise men have always cherished. He could see the one room schoolhouse he attended when he tossed his first dirt clod, toward the southern horizon.

When the second war broke out he was given a bye as the sole son on the family farm, but he felt compelled to ride the service train alongside his friends and neighbors to St. Louis. He cheered them and memorized their names. He could recite each one till his last year.

His hands, unrestrained by today's neon world of keyboard, circuitry, chip and motherboard, pried delicate seeds from tiles and made levers to lift plows like the Greeks had done in Pythagoras' age. Each problem found was an opportunity for him, each crisis resolvable.

"I remember him running from shed to barn to house. He never seemed to slow down," a relative said.

His was the age of industry and ethic. When someone had conflict, they talked about it. Therapists had not yet intruded their theories upon the landscape.

He was remembered for his grit and ready answers to life's questions.

A child or grandchild or great grandchild, in tagging behind the nimble farmer, yelling for him to wait, would hear his routine in the echo ahead – "Wait broke the bridge!"

He loved to play with words; alliteration, palindrome and onomatopoeia.

Pop goes the weasel, drop daring danger.

He was always moving.

In the hospital a nurse asked him where he'd like to sit.

"On my butt," he said.

When asked about a season, in any particular year, he recalled weather, deer tracks and the harvest. He could have filled volumes of discourse on agriculture, carpentry, welding, electricity, hydraulics and veterinary science.

But he was a humble man. He never bragged that his family settled the land in 1849 or that they gave land to the railroad or that the county benefited from their philanthropy. He liked to mispronounce his hometown, Donna who (Donahue, Iowa), leaving that message of Ecclesiastes that all things are vain.

He carved branches and sticks, turning nature into symbol and art and he worked a jig as well as any man in that county. He left behind dolls and toys and furniture he'd made or repaired or reworked.

He learned to play the guitar. He wrote poetry.

On his last day, a bald eagle soared above the hill and a rabbit ran into the trees he planted, its tracks whispers in the fresh snow. The 200 year old barn seemed to speak, creaking and rubbing its aged rafters that day when the wind drew high. His last breath on the beloved Iowa hillside was drawn where the picture window held long views of the horizon. His family stood at his side.

The 'I love you's' quieted the wind then. The old man left his family a smile.

DUBUQUE — The glass window of the Rescue Mission office gleamed with a fresh sparkle. The homeless man stood at the two-wheel cart, which held all his worldly possessions. He wore a gray wool cap and a new green, ankle-length coat festooned with round, black buttons. He bent like a stork. “Yeah,” he said, “New coat. I like the buttons. I’d like to get more eyes for more buttons, have the buttons go down to the bottom.”

“You can wear whatever you want to these days. Used to be certain styles but now anything is fine.”

The gray-handled cart was piled high: A red suitcase sat at the bottom of the pile, topped by a tan leather carryall, then a dark blue duffel bag, a lettuce green nylon bag and, finally, an ice blue cloth bag, all secured with ties and cord. A shoulder pack hung upon the handle and a briefcase swayed at the crossbar. The man’s whole life set upon that gray handled cart.

“I like the old style of coat that used to hang to the ground. They wore those before the automobile. Kept them warm in the buggies.”

Inside the mission, at the kitchen counter, the volunteers talked about the new coat. It took weeks to convince the man to take it.

“I’m trying to plant the idea that he shouldn’t stay outside,” one said. “He should settle down, find a place, but he doesn’t listen.”

In a sweet voice, the homeless man finished his conversation: “You can wear whatever you want. It doesn’t matter.”

People with carts are invisible. On the freezing sidewalk outside the mission, well-dressed holiday shoppers strolled past the impoverished men, shivering and slapping at their shoulders to stay warm and dry under a canopy. The walking wealthy bore fattened wallets and handbags, wearing only sweaters and vests as they moved in the crisp air from their well-heated cars to the casino bridge. They will not remember the man with the gray handled cart.



                                                              ( At the Rescue Mission )

Smells of beef stew rose to the ceiling and then waffled out into their faces and hushed the cold, snapping hands of the people in line. When the stainless lid came off the griddle the smells animated their tired faces and huddled shoulders. They bristled with a shuffling, foot to foot, back and forth. The fog of stew, peas, potatoes, beans and even gumbo arose for their tired eyes to massage. Hands pumped across chests and slapped shoulders and brown wool caps set like goggles over foreheads.

"Made it this morning. Sonny said to use a little beef stew he’d put together and I had some gumbo slurry in a bowl and we mixed it all together – Stumbo. Yep! Stumbo!"

Today's food for the belly and thought for the soul was hereafter called Stumbo.

At the beginning of the counter the green and white cole slaw, with the texture of pudding, stirred in their eyes, and then the red apple sauce as thick as bark and the packaged salad from the co-op was stacked in the serving space. The long haired server smiled as he lifted the apple sauce and sniffed and gave a hearty hey yo, good stuff! And then he pinched his thumb and forefinger together like an Italian brings the fingers to his lip and kisses the goodness of the experience for the others to savor.

Two weeks before Thanksgiving with a planet heavy arctic cold running down the back street, heralded by a giant cold pressure of wind from the north witnessed Detroit’s return to the kitchen. Detroit bundled himself up in a warm green parka and festooned his head with a snappy green cap and he smiled as if tomorrow didn’t matter anymore.

"Man, good to see you. Been a month or more. How you been?"

"Doin good man," Detroit said and he smirked with a friendship grin, open and warm as buttered toast.

"So…" his friend let that question be an open door, without prying and without judging anything to come, their friendship stoked for all future contingent emergencies and circumstances.

"Well, you know that Sunday, I started at nine for breakfast, had to be at work and I worked at the boat till noon. "

Detroit hurried his eyes over the freshly covered carrot cake that Sonny had decorated with white cream frosting, then returned to his story. He lifted his eye back to his friend and shook his shoulders. He stood at the counter and the lunch had been served, chairs taken, table top filled with trays and bowls of Stumbo, apple sauce and little cupcakes for dessert.

""That stew was good," he said, as if to move more gently into his story. "Beef and beans and gravy and what else you want, tasted great. Thanks."

"So I get back to the mission, Sunday, and it’s late and the line backed up to the elevator. Now what the…!"

The second stainless dish of Stumbo was being uncovered and it was after twelve. Seconds had been signaled and now Raphael stomped in between the two standing men at the long counter. He shifted an elbow and pushed the bowl across the counter.

Raphael had a legendary appetite and was accommodated. "Thanks," he sang and whisked back to the table and scooped the stew like it was a death row meal. His four suitcases and dolley set by him. Here and there he looked around the room, patient eye hooks, vigilant and worried enough that his stuff was safe. Raphael was a wise man.

Jerry dropped his coffee at the counter and spilled. He hurried to the towels basket, lifted a blue towel and rubbed away the tan liquid that ran to the floor. What the hell, he said. Don't you love the smell of fresh coffee?

"What the nonsense, and I …well you know me, got a little hot." Detroit free associated his story like a rambling series of thought trains. "I mean…" Detroit’s words slowed and his eyes grew furrowed. He said he was mad. "Here’s a line from the counter across the way to the elevator and no food. No food, no one serving.!"

This was the event when he went AWOL and lost his space at the mission.

It was on Sunday and Detroit had been busy with his new job while he tried to manage things on lunch hours. Betrayal, frustration, abandonment, hurt, shame, worry…how one feeling could have shoveled all Detroit’s time into a burn pile and let him face it there, all at once. He tried to say it and it happened during the cancer surgery too but he gave the briefer version of hurt that went deep inside him and laid him down.

"So I slipped out and didn’t come back..you know."

Detroit's friend Joel laughed as Detroit pointed to Joel's new beard. The old change of topic, comfort in something else, the feelings too hot to touch now, the recent event close and cold in the brain.

"Yeah, got me a hostile haircut couple months ago from a woman I should not have trusted. Then decided, have to have some hair. Grew the beard."

Fast as thieves at an auction they talked over the summetime, what happened and who went where. The mission changes, people come and go, strangers learn to befriend each other, the deep lessons of friends as family and then the family matters like loyalty and alliance the foundation of survival.

Detroit's cheeks were red, a ruddy red seen as a sign of health. He'd been out, strolled the sometimes unforgiving landscape, and mustered smiles and hearty hellos. He was a wise man to the ways of survival, hardiness and grit imbued him with a running stream of advice and good will. His work at the mission had been extolled at their board meeting.

When he took off his woolen cap he massaged his face. He frowned that little bit, a tell, as if cards had been handed to him. Can't win with a losin' hand, he seemed to have said.

"Doin good though. Little tight here where they tied the stitches against the cancer. But it's better."

Detroit rubbed at his right cheek and temple where surgeons at the University of Iowa had removed a cancer.

"The nose is doin real well. Can't hardly see where they took that cancer," he said and tilted his head as if by craning an answer would form.

"Where yah stayin' now?" Joel said.

"Heard you was up on University. Got a one room apartment or what?"
Detroit said he was at the Canfield Hotel down the hill, doin' good.

In the space of ten minutes Detroit's summer had been overlaid like the veneer of a table. His sorrows and his despairs, by circumstance or reckoning, his own or God's, had been placed on the center. He'd grinned as if he had all the world at his command, despite circumstances of being without home, work, security, insurance or regular meals.

The Stumbo had done a magical thing. Detroit came back.

Our old friend Detroit did have that one thing, too, that essential, easy to access account, the other side of the story that few know. His savings throughout life was at a fixed interest, he'd held it without taking anything from it - a savings in what mattered, some would say, at an eternal rate, in all the friends he'd made and all the good things he'd done.

"Good  to see you Detroit!"

Likewise. He grinned as he walked to the elevator door.





Iowa Writes    University of Iowa

The Old Gangster


        "I killed a man when I was twenty-four."  The old man with a coal-colored face sat on sun-scorched, wooden steps at the rear of the one-hundred-year-old, brick building.  "You put it out of your mind."  The steps rolled under the porch canopy.  Houses in the old neighborhood were set close.  Autumn leaves were falling, but the air was hot.
        The man rolled his hands, one over the other.  "Oh, I was raised in church, all right, taught about God.  My momma would whip me if I didn't go.  Was the Church of the Pentecost.  Yeah, I remember, sure do."
        The alley was filled with debris.  He parsed his fingers, pinching his thumbs as he relived his past.  "I ran with the gang but it was family then.  They cared about you, took care of you.  Was the Blackstone Rangers, long, long time ago now."  He spoke about being free and being owned, about how a choice may not be more than a light in the darkness, a light/choice so small that it's not really a choice— except that at the time, it seems as if it is.
        He frowned but did not blink.  He looked into the yard and the alley.  Edges of red, vine leaves hung upon the garage fascia.  Now he turned his coal-colored face to the sunlight.  The smell of leaves sailed in the little breezes.  It was a sweet smell, and the grass, too, smelled sweet, drafting the backyard.
        "I got out.  Back then a man could.  I don't understand them today.  They put 'em through this torture, what you call, initiate 'em.  Them boys now is crazy, they can't get out. . ."
        The leaves were rustling, hop-skipping across the lawn.  Sparrows played in the dust.  In the far/near distance, yellow tree tops gleamed.  Sunlight broached the ground in bouncing patterns.
        The man had been in Dubuque a few years.  "I got family here.  That's why I come."  He had been working at the nearby pawn shop, pulling engine plugs, repairing windshield wipers, replacing tires on the stones at the alley.
        The sunlight wrinkled the dead leaves scattered over the bushes.  Autumn would soon leave, the heat would turn cold but the warmth brought the old man easy memories.  He wanted to talk.  "I was born and raised in Chicago, lived on the borderline of gang turf and I joined up with the Blackstone gang.  Yeah, I was shot five times.  Stabbed, too." He described the scene of the shooting, the sensation, the blood.  It squirted from his side.  He wrung out his hands, pulling on them like carrot tops in a garden.  Then he parsed his fingers, pinching his thumbs as he relived it.  His hands held the past.  He looked puzzled.
        His conversation tightened; his hands lay motionless on his lap.  He spoke like a soldier, his eyes dying and his face impassive.  He lifted his shirt where the raised, grey scars had transformed his torso.  "It's a world away, now."
        Soon, his animation ebbed.  In his wan face were the tired wrinkles of years of worry and poverty but he stood quickly now as if the energy of his younger self had not been stifled.
        The old man readied himself to say goodbye.  Squinting at the sunlight, he wiped his head as if he was sweeping it clean.  He murmured, "I read a little of the Bible once in a while, I'm sad sometimes, yep.  Guess I'd weep if I could."
        The conversation now over, he ambled into the yard, waved at a car that passed by and looked down at the sidewalk.  Then he walked into the darkening alley and began to whistle.

            FW Trenkle - A Ranger of PontduHoc                
                                                       Acclaimed by readers and writers

                              More than one million hits


                                                           Your life is your life
Don't let it be clubbed into dank submission
                                                                                                               There are ways out
                                                                                                           There is a light somewhere
                                                                                                      It may not be much light but it beats the darkness
                                                                                                               Be on the watch
                                                                                                                     You can't beat death
                                                                                        But you can beat death in life, sometimes
                                                                                                                     And the more often you learn to do it
                                                                                                                             The more light there will be.
                                                                                                                        Your life is your life
                                                                                                                         Know it while you have it
                                                                                                                         You are marvelous
                                                                                                   The gods want to delight in you       {Bukowski}
           Thanks to Prairie Lights in Iowa City               


A soft blue sky expanded at the river and an orange glow tipped over the horizon where the sun rose. Flat, easy water tumbled across the lock and dam north of Dubuque. The dam lights sprinkled upon the dawn shadows.

Fall on river Iowa glows in precious colors. The fat river widens above the first Iowa city. The early morn moves the first birds. Crickets sing. Reluctant deer rise from the fertile river bottoms. Nature has its ways to preserve each creature.

In Dubuque, homeless men trudge on empty sidewalks. Man made softness and weight, light and dark. The colors of the city are not as precious.

Loneliness scourges like a plague set under each arm, so heavy the lonely slouch, dragging shoulders through the next intersection.

The easy things to see abide along the river but the real circumstances of mankind prove difficult to discern. The sidewalk fills with lessons.

This morning the iconic clock tower in the key city chimed eight times and shadows flickered still, a shortening of summer's light now coming as advent of the moon when the seasons change. An old, homeless man slouched in a steel sofa under the young trees. Tardy IBM employees high stepped to their work stations.

The old man pulled at his black, wool cap. He held fast to the new walking cane. Only last month he'd been using an eight iron, gripping the head like a handle. I wondered then if it might also help him to protect himself from the young predators of the street. I watched him in late summer while he swung the dinner tray at the Rescue Mission and asked for roast beef and if possible, an extra ladle of gravy.

"Sure", I said.

He's familiar to thousands in Dubuque. He walks south to north, trundling untold miles each day. Each season he walks. If he walks ten miles in a day that's several thousand miles annually.

Sitting in the fine, iron seat setting on the brick lined amphitheater like space under the little tree, he unbuttoned a dark collar. His ragged brown coat stays on him like skin. He's worn it for at least five years. He bathes without removing it for more than the safe moments when he dabs a wash rag to clean at a public sink or a private shelter.

I only try, however impurely, to paint a picture of him. He's a part of the landscape. He's loved by many people in the helping system and to those he allows entrance to his frayed world he smiles, offers thanks and gives, without knowing, that precious life that he refuses to give up.

Mankind has a great force for good but goodness has not been harvesting. We have changed the weather. We have dug out the earth in mines and covered it with concrete. We billow smoke into the lifeblood of our air streams. We look away from the homeless man.

Unless the humility of the cricket and his song, unless touching the homeless and the hungry, there are only the fleeting moments. The sacred lives in each of us.

In Iowa, where the products of our labor come to feed so many, the river parts time and yet the changes that move from shoreline to sidewalk are telling.

While feeling the wonders of fall, the wonder of being human, concerned with growth in helping each other, is a force to remember, a task to take home. The old man in the iron bench seems to tell that important lesson, that the heart is our true home, the fertile soil of compassion a color to demand our attention, a song to gather us and a story to guide us.

Thanks to many.........................................                                     

The Book Rack        

     Mindframe Movie theater for the slide show The Kings of the Narrow Gate before every movie.

     Iowa City, Carnagie Stout, Preston, Macquoketa and Dyersville libraries for making Kings part of your collection.

     Queen B Radio and Dick McGrane for the weekly promos of the essays and the book. 

The Kings of the Narrow Gate: A Journey of Faith & Inequality in America’s Heartland



                                                  In the DesMoines Register:

                            Summer traditions show off a healthy Iowa


During the last week in July, Iowa hosts two events that celebrate our heritage of determination and friendship the seven-mile running race known as the Bix and the bike race across our lands from the Missouri to the Mississippi River known as RAGBRAI. Iowa is a place to live and to play and to reach for the stars.

We Iowans are a healthy people who labor hard and play just as hard, glad for the consequence of harvest that comes with our labors, aware in our factories, offices and schools that a bounty returns with faith and effort. We welcome a chance to share our geography, setting between two rivers, laid upon the best soils on earth, a place of small towns and safe havens, a place of sharing and caring for neighbors. Our neighborhood has become the world.

We gave Borlaug to save a billion people and Twain a first writing job. Chrysler jerked a wrench here. Tractors were invented. Steamboats were refined. Hospitality has been a second nature to us.

Each year the great bike race across our hills and prairies draws 15,000 fanatic and energetic bicyclists who come from every continent. The annual seven-mile run in Davenport draws a similar keyed-up crowd of many thousands who revel in the river hill and hillock and the afterglow of world class jazz. We celebrate these events with our two-lane finger salutes drawn from tractors and front porches. We enjoin everyone in the food and festivity, in the flags of friendship that gather in our health-conscious state to wave at the vigor and wonder of Iowa.

There is a simple joy of sharing directions, laughing over morning pancakes and happily sharing stories of small towns and those warm memories of helping a stranded sportsman fix a tire or tie a shoe.

I have listened to people at each event offer a "Hello, so you're from Iowa, good place, isn't it?

Often it's easy to create a stereotype that we are those Grant Wood farmers with our spades and sullen faces but in our summertime ecstasies of running and biking we get the chance to speak. Here we show our understandings of literature and invention, our willingness to go that extra mile and our great capacity to listen.

The Iowa conversation involves that mystical aptitude to listen. That is 90 percent of all good conversation.

The July ends tie us to the world in special ways. Sure, we harvest and true as the cliché we bring in the sheaves and weigh the hogs, but among the niches we have built are the fun and wonder filled events of RAGBRAI and the Bix.

In these summertime venues Iowa feels like it will go on forever, from the perch of our horizons, carried on the winged heels of Hermes, his flowers drafting beside us all, grit and joy carried into the world from our small towns and hearty farms.



EMail    -     Kingsgatebooks@yahoo.com

                                An annual participant in the Bix and has been a participant in the Ragbrai bike race across Iowa


                                           Thank you DesMoines Register for publishing:

                                         Be Happy
(Wouldn’t it be something if a moral revival began in our lifetimes)

Important books would emerge, leaders would speak sense, marches and crusades would empower the downtrodden. Music would sing the praises of virtue, equity would grow, people would trust more, smile more, engage more and love more and deeper.

Families would empower society, the enemy would be recognized as being the man in the mirror, generations would talk, share and pass along those best parts of all of us. Good news, true news, worthwhile news would enliven conversation and show us the folly of so many dum ideas. A bomb to end all life doesn’t really make sense.

Scientists would stop counting the number of times a hummingbird’s wings flap. The intelligent among us would invent upbeat strategies that bring people together like a new and improved marshmallow or a triangular waffle.

Each day we would think of three good things and find our dreams were better.

Your neighbor would tell you something good each day. You would remind yourself about something good about you. Each of us would savor the simple things in life. Each would remember what is precious.

Those crazy, random acts of kindness would be practiced.

One camera would be shut off. One cuss word left unsaid. One sneer abated. An unkind word would be stifled.

A laugh would be shared. A view of the sky given to a child unable to see above the tall shoulders.

Sure, it’s not our job to make each other happy. But can’t we improve our own joy and share it?

Happiness is contagious. Wouldn’t it be neat if you could find more upbeat people and you were one of them?

Of course, it’s not our fault when someone is unhappy but you won’t get hurt by doing a good deed. Don’t they return?

And, guessing it’s true that unhappy people look for a reason to be grim, still, you don’t have to be a target. Why not shoot a few laughs in that direction, why not listen for a minute longer, why not share your happiness?

Isn’t their negativity often innocent, a sort of sublime ignorance?  Being negative is, after all, a weight of depression, not easily shaken. Steer someone in the other direction.

Success is a companion of your own self worth. Choice concerns attitude. Choose your attitude. No one can make it for you.

Often, doesn’t it make sense to see your true self as being upbeat? Adapt to change. Seasons change. You can too.

Wouldn’t it be neat if cooperation grew, if interconnectedness mattered…we’re all interdependent.

Live life now. Live as if this moment is all you have. Live it as if it’s eternal.              

                              The Heartland
                           The first city in Iowa,
                         known as the 'Key City'.
                        The story of hard times.
                         The great recession.
              Available at stores in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin


                                                                             Thank you Cedar Rapids Gazette




                                               The Week Before Christmas
                                   (As it appeared in the DesMoines Register)

One week before Christmas a wizened, white whiskered man in a raggedy wool scarf held out a red pot and wished everyone who passed him a Merry Christmas. Nearby, at the towering clock on Main Street in Dubuque, by the front door of the community college, three friends talked about life. Won’t an individual give to you as you would give, treat you as you would in kind, they said. It’s not asking for too much to give. A good word can save a life. A fourth friend sauntered by and everyone said hello, how are you and Merry Christmas. Hugs were given and smiles lit the sky under the white columned clock tower.  The two women, a mother and daughter, began to walk away after their greetings. The first man told the newly arrived, quizzical man that the mother was troubled. “Tell him,” he said. “What’s up?” The man asked. Mother stood at the stark, brick wall. She trembled and her smile faded. Tears formed and filled her eyes. “Oh it’s nothing,” she said, “I mean I got to get out of here. It’s the city, you know.” The older man seemed concerned and told her to tell more. She said it was how the city treated her. Her daughter stood by her. The anguish arrived like rousing fog, windblown and angry. The second man’s face was cloud white. The three others were mahogany featured, an unusual color in a snow white city.  The older man frowned. He said it was a shame. You know the way people are.  The woman seemed to be filled like a trough of sadness and grief. “Oh, it’s alright,” she said but the men shook their heads. “No! It’s not alright!” In the time it takes to pierce a minnow on a hook at the ice covered river the four friends made their way onto the rest of that day, seven days before Christmas. Now Jesus was a brown man, a carpenter, born homeless to an unwed mother and unemployed father. A small man who said I love you in such a way that a religion built around him. A brown skinned man born into poverty. Such were the three at the clock tower. That afternoon the white man drove to Clinton, Iowa. He left along a side street marked by arrows that weaved by a motel where a small, curbed space allowed a young man to stand. The young man held a sign. It read, ‘Homeless, Cold.’ He stared into the spaces of the cars as they rolled past him on their way to Christmas shop. Faces icy, turned away . There is a debate about passing a good word or even a dollar bill. Some say they wouldn’t give a dollar to a homeless man – he might just buy alcohol or drugs. Some say they wouldn’t give a dollar because that’s the work of charity and it’s an easy lie to yourself that you are a good person because you gave a buck. Some say they would buy the man a sandwich. Some say it’s the government’s job to care for the needy. And some will say, perhaps those as foolish as those brown faced men who saw a star and followed it to a manger, that they would give the homeless man everything they had. He must have a need. I drove around the block that day and gave that young man a twenty. I stopped and wanted to advise him about the dollar in a fish bowl, the seed money that could help influence others, but the traffic was too much.  I don’t know why my friend felt racism. It’s here. I don’t know why I didn’t empty my wallet. I do know these things matter, and will come again, like the star, like Newton’s law of equal and opposite reaction. Love really does matter. I believe it is the only thing we will leave after we are gone. I may not be a Christian by some standards, but these things are eternal. Everywhere they matter. For all time they matter.         





                                                     The Iowa City street sign begat stories of hard times on the street


                                                         Thank you for your interest in these stories about hard times.

Many of the essays, poems and stories appearing here have been in the Iowa Review, the DesMoines Register, the Cedar Rapids Gazette and

magazines, anthologies and on radio



Let Me Live



The Heartland Campaign



                            Stories and poems written on meat wrap, napkins, cardboard and tissue, for thinking, laughing and crying



                   When traveling the Mississippi River  here Twain said he felt the people were civilized

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