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Street angel

| Monday, February 25, 2019

The “Notre Dame bubble” is a theme and topic that sometimes seems to be overshadowed by more “local” occurrences on campus. I have taken a number of courses, in topics ranging from theology to policy, that seek to address how Notre Dame is an island in South Bend. But this narrative often seems like it is lacking on more personal levels. Because I am from New Mexico — a state which consistently ranks among the poorest in the country — poverty is an inescapable narrative to me. There was, in fact, a period of time when my own family was homeless and an even longer time when we daily faced the reality of food and shelter insecurity. These issues are just as important in South Bend. In 2016, the median household income in South Bend was well below the national average, with poverty rates almost twice the national figure in the same year. And yet, here at Notre Dame, the average family income is over five times that of the South Bend average.

With such numbers and statistics in mind, I wrote the following poem in large part as an indictment to the view of people as numbers and statistics. We live in an era that is highly polarized. Even the most well-meaning of politicians, commentators, journalists and, at times, very regretfully, some educators tend to reduce people to categories so that people can be summarily and inadequately described in ways that satisfy a one-sided narrative or argument, but that notably are starkly devoid of any recognition of humanity. In the end, stereotypes — even those which seem positive — are wrong and harmful on every level and overtly miss all that is important and real.

There are no hard and fast, simple solutions to poverty and homelessness in America, and proposing some is not the purpose of this poem. Rather, it seeks to explore a simpler and more fundamental conflict, one that is poignant in light of the “Notre Dame bubble.” Before we can even conceive of structural, tangible solutions to homelessness and poverty in America and local communities, the biggest hurdle we can sometimes overcome is taking the step and noticing them in the first place.

I can’t tell if its tears

Or the gathering of puddles

From a light post above his head.

Is that a signpost in rotting fingers,

Or a road-sign of wet atoms and flaky cardboard?

I can’t tell if those are spiky wings on his back,

Or just a raggedy black sweatshirt

Haloed in a pool of light.

I can’t tell if he’ll fly away,

Or just freeze in motion like a half-melted icicle.

Is that his hair or a cloud that fell here,

Crashed and changed phases on his body.

Is that his body?

I almost couldn’t tell,

It looks like a streetlight

Without blinking lights.

I pass the quiet, loud, silent lights on a corner,

The empty corner.

Was he there at all?

I can’t tell.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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