The Too-Honest Homeless Poet

When I lived in downtown Annapolis, I spent much of my free time in coffee shops or sitting by the water, reading philosophy books and writing poetry. I met some very interesting people during that time, not the least of which were the local homeless people. There was one in particular with whom I would hang out and talk. He was an older black gentleman, maybe in his early 60’s, who we will call Kurt.

Kurt had dreadlocks halfway down his back and he was relatively physically fit, a strong guy with a somewhat powerful presence. He carried around a backpack where he kept some clothes and a notebook in which he wrote poetry. If he was in the right mood, he would share some of his poems with me, many of which were quite moving. Every once in a while, he would ask for some money and I would give him a few dollars here and there. I did not have much myself, but I had more than him.

On occasion, Kurt would come in to the coffee shop I worked at and would buy a cup of tea. If he did not have any money, I would give him one on the house, as one of the free drinks I was allotted for the day. He would fill the tea cup with dozens of honey packets and would sometimes fall asleep at the table where he drink it. I found myself cleaning up after him and apologizing for him on multiple occasions.

One evening, Kurt and I were sitting out by the water talking and I asked him what happened to him. He was obviously intelligent and physically able, so why did he not work? “I do not like people telling me what to do,” he said. “Neither do I,” I replied. Then I continued, “I am not sure that is a good enough reason for you to ask me for the money I work hard for every day.” He did not disagree. We both went our separate ways knowing that our relationship was no longer the same.

 Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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