Reclaiming Agency through Writing: Excerpts from Street Roots’ ‘I Am Not a Poet’

Introduction by Mary Locke

While hard-hitting reporting on all matters of human rights has become Street Roots’ mainstay, vendor-contributed poetry has always been the nonprofit newspaper’s anchor. Recently, a number of Portland’s publishing professionals (PDX Magazine‘s associate editor among them) volunteered to comb through 15 years of Street Roots back issues to compile, edit, design, and publish an anthology of the most thoughtful, compelling, and enthralling poetry. In addition, PDX Magazine cover artist Chris Haberman contributed original art to the book’s cover, representing the myriad voices found in the anthology’s nearly 200 poems.

Though not all, a number of the selected poems were contributed by those experiencing homelessness. Many of the published poems are created during the newspaper’s weekly writing workshop, where vendor-poets gather to express themselves through the written word.

The result is a poetry anthology that examines all aspects of the human condition, not just issues of homelessness—issues that Street Roots actively works to alleviate. I Am Not a Poet: 15 Years of Street Roots Poetry and Art looks at themes of love, survival, hope, and humanity. The book also showcases art that tackles similar ideas, also sourced from previously printed Street Roots content.

Enjoy this exclusive excerpt of poems from I Am Not a Poet. Copies are available in both e-book and print form, from a Street Roots vendor near you, at local bookstores, and online at the book’s website:


Twila Nesky

When my daughter laughs at me

with a voice just like my own,

or flashes that black mane of hair

and cuts a blue-eyed gaze

guaranteed to devastate

every male creature

within a hundred yards of her

I finally realize,

that I was once beautiful.



Cedara Rios

And I see a man

with a shovel

his little dog looks on


Near the side of the underpass

the ground is disturbed

by a lonely concavity


And I wonder what he

buried there


The Assembly

Yvonne Ingram

standing together we gathered

around a transit kiosk

assembled to wait for the bus

eyes peeled

looking for a glimpse

of our ride in the oncoming traffic


some of us glance nervously

at our watches and mumble

about schedules and the weather

a woman asks if the forty-four

has come yet.


we are a group of individuals

like a theater crowd

we dance in the cold

waiting for our chariot to come


the tallest in topcoat and tie

carries a briefcase

a boy with books and

a name-printed skateboard

a woman in a yellow sweater shivers

in the early morning chill

a child holds her mother’s

red and black plaid skirt


our lives in step only at this moment

we don’t converse

and only occasionally glance around

to see each other’s faces

our heads swivel at hissing brakes

and as the bus slows for a stop

we enter the open door

and take our seats


Mirror Pond in Bend

Verlena Orr

A young couple holds hands, and drift

the grassy edge of Mirror Pond

geese that live here have mated for life


This first day of this summer calls up an old winter

when my favorite bar went broke. Now, memory

opens the doors of the finest places with no cover


Metolious Headwaters, the Deschutes, Paulina Lake,

its obsidian edge. Will they close, give up in despair,

move to a better location?


Today, I walk the pond’s circle

memorize its new reflections—

with blonde roses, pale azure iris


paired geese giggling

as I move closer

to their happiness


I Think I’ll Take the Groceries Home (in the Bags under My Eyes)

C. A. Mesch

walking onto the street

urine on the wall from last night’s dream

outside—the grocery boy’s inhaling cigarettes

the hole in my sock feels the chill of the air

eggs, beans, and Frito-Lays

standing in line as if not quite there

another late morning or elderly afternoon

with the sun hiding confusion in my mouth

the checkout girl smiles

“paper or plastic?”

my unfortunate face draws a blank

victim of a certain crime

another stray shot in the dark


Old Man, a Dog—in St. Johns

Jay Thiemeyer

gimpy old man, limping

walking a service dog

leading the dog by a handle

like he’s pouring tea

turns a corner and disappears

leaving on the Bridge to see


across the speeding neighborhood street

tables twisted with people

words inaudible, suggested in gestures

clothes off the rack

restraint feeble


lining asphalt and concrete

providing suggestion of life and green

trees rattle and choke in the wind

leaves turn inside out

trunks piercing like dogs’ tongues

but fresher breath

could be an architect’s pencil-in

fresh from the crowd of condos

mangling the view of the Forest


stoplight present in its trough overhead

a calm in the agitation

speaks little, says much

to a captive intersection


swings like a metronome

and I am mesmerized

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