Alexis Ivy: My name is Alexis Ivy. I received an Artist Fellowship in Poetry from Mass Cultural Council in 2018. This is my poem, Taking the Homeless Census.
TAKING THE HOMELESS CENSUS
The corner of the laundromat is occupied
by the ex-con with an exhausting past.
He uses missing socks as mittens,
trades socks for cigarettes. Homeless:
Teenagers homeless under bridges
living on benches, or beside the heat vents
in the library, chronic homeless
who find refuge in the holes of
stairwells. The habitually homeless
who have lived four episodes
of homeless in the past two years.
The girl who stocks the shelves
at 7 Eleven tells me she lives
on her friends’ couches. The man
I buy a muffin for at Dunkin’ Donuts
Sunday mornings goes south
to be homeless in Rhode Island
all winter. In public alleyway
118 three vets have built a room
out of furniture left on the street
by undergraduates. A woman
curled up in a Macy’s storefront
leans on the six garbage bags
of her life. On any given night
in January at the Shattuck Shelter
someone will clean up, show up,
ask for a toothbrush, dryness,
five packets of sugar, an outlet.
Sign their name on the sign-in
so that they might be given a bed.
As for the rest of us? Uncounted.
Alexis Ivy: I had read the Homeless Census actually before I ever even starting working with the homeless as a career. And I found it so interesting, just that question of: there’s so many people that go uncounted. And how do I write about that?
I feel like there’s so much trauma that I see in the work that I do that the only way I can process it is through writing. It’s always been very therapeutic for me to write. But especially working with the homeless. And, um, it just helps me process everything that happens to me on the job. Though I’ve finished a book on homelessness, I still free write on homeless just to get me through the work I do.
I think what really is great about poetry is that every word matters so much. I feel like I could sit there and just be like, Should I use the word this or that? And it’s so important. I’ve been, actually, working on a short story with a group of people, and every time I bring the short story they’re like, you’re such a poet Alexis, what the hell. I just like try to use the least amount of words to express something, still, and I’m like, wow I can’t get away from that. And I think that’s what so interesting, how you can really create some moment or some feeling or just an image and just really focus. I think that the thing, the focus. Giving something so much importance, it’s a gift I have. And I feel like that’s why poetry is my type of writing, my kind of writing.