October 10th brought a special writing acceptance for me: a prose poem, the first I’ve ever sent out, and one with a shed-load of meaning for me.
I spent the ten years between 2001 and 2011 working in homelessness and drug work, as a support/advice/advocacy worker, mostly with street homeless people.
I worked with some special people. Lots of them died. The average life expectancy of a homeless person in the UK is 47. For women, it’s 43. Some of the stories I couldn’t tell you, because they’re just too hard to hear. Maybe one day I’ll write them, if I can disguise the details enough to protect privacy. Sometimes, for some of them, it felt like it was only us who carried their memory. I don’t know if that was true. Maybe we were just presumptuous. I know that there are faces I will never forget.
A Wild & Precious Life anthology is a wonderful project bringing together prose and poetry written by people who have experience of recovery in many different forms. We have our own family story, which didn’t end in recovery, and that has reached into the future and touched everything, for us.
The prose poem I wrote, though, was a gathering up of the hope I tried to carry on behalf of the incredible humans I worked with out there – people with creativity, quirkiness, compassion, energy, ideas, intelligence, anarchy, morality, brokenness, the bleakest of pasts, humour, anger, hurt, kindness; a wild take on life, or a desperate need to fit in somewhere, anywhere. All of these and so much more.
There was always hope, for every one of the people we worked with, even if sometimes it was hard for them or us to catch a hold of it and keep it.
The poem is named for a special guy I had the privilege of keyworking for a while. Kind, shy, soft-spoken, intelligent, sensitive, full of respect for others, facing life with quiet courage and the gentlest of humour. Unassuming and undemanding.
Many of us still remember you, Matt. You were one of the good ones. Wish you were here.