“Twenty Photos from Police Records of His Last Night Alive” by Susan Vespoli

Susan Vespoli


The criminalization of homelessness makes
the struggle to survive on the streets even
more difficult.
—National Coalition for the Homeless

The sadness lands at night,
a heavy bird standing
above your ribs, the weight
of its body dropping
down through its legs
and into your core
making it hard to breathe.

Sadness leans against the interior
of a tunnel along an underpass
you suddenly recognize
as the I-17 at Thunderbird
only a couple miles
from your house:
a black backpack with orange straps
a knit blanket       Big Gulp cups
a cardboard box and a pink plastic crate,
graffiti that has sprayed the cement into a cloud.

Photos 15, 16, & 17       your son’s face,
the 18th       his back,
head hung to chest
in resignation, a hoodie,
wrists clasped in handcuffs,
his left palm and fingers
circling his right thumb
like his hands are comforting each other.

Walk off the sadness. Spot
a hawk perched on your rooftop
AC unit, where a little bird dives and screams
at the hawk who just sits there
like patriarchy, like an American eagle,
possibly the one on a dollar bill
until it squawks once,
then lifts into the air
the small bird in its talons.

from Poets Respond
May 3, 2022


Susan Vespoli: “This past week, I received photos and body-cam video from police records of my son Adam’s last night on the planet before he was shot by a police officer. Adam and three other homeless individuals, one in a wheelchair, one leaning on a cane, were charged with a misdemeanor for ‘obstructing streets or public areas.’ Because my son questioned the police’s right to arrest them for sleeping, he was thrown to the ground, charged with ‘resisting arrest’ and hauled into jail for the night. The next day, he was shot. I am writing to give a voice to all the human beings who sleep without homes and who are treated this way.” (web)

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