We Learned it Early

altruism is not spelled with pocket change:


bus station, beggar, 

bail and the

baby won’t stop

crying again, no medicine but

could we sell my ring, you think?

could we sell 

could we?

cold, so cold.

car won’t start

city lights, 

city nights,

catcalls from mouths without faces and a

coat over your head like a shroud.

creaking chairs,

crumpled papers in one hand, 

christmas stockings and bills due yesterday

dial the numbers on the sign,

dot your t’s and cross your i’s,

everybody knows that. 

empty bank accounts, empty pill bottles, 

food poisoning and no more

funds available; hey, you


freeloader, why don’t you just

(god, i’m freezing)

get a job?

gas station sandwiches

guillotine fantasies,

get your life together.

how? you ask,


huddled under canvas,

“hey, isn’t it that girl who’s always”

hush little baby,




“Have you considered

helping yourself?” we can only

help you

if you prostrate yourself

if your papers are in order.

if you juggle these rings of fire,

if you stand there while they laugh,

if you beg.

(it’s so cold here, in the winter)

“I remember you,

I gave you money one time.”

I never asked to get sick.

Jail shoes, unpaid fines,


just one more thing,

kids asleep on a subway train,

kiss them as they’re dreaming,

landlord screaming,

lover leaving,

leaky roof and the

limp that lets you starve.

money doesn’t grow on trees, son.

medicine doesn’t, either.

mommy will keep you warm.

maybe they won’t bother us here,

maybe we can sleep.

no coats,

no supper,

no lights, no heat;

no, we can’t help you,

not people like you: you are the

Noises in our symphony.

neighbors watching,

one missed paycheck,

open the door to an

officer with a fistful of despair

officials who have never slept


one breath turns heart and glass 

opaque with silver frost.

Out, he says, get

out. Get out, get out, get

off the 


Police cars gathered at the scene of your crime:

packing, frantic, 

plastic bags,

phone calls,



pieces of your life strewn underfoot.

please, she cries,


Pardon me, sir, do you have a

quarter, do you have a dollar,

really, all I need is a dime: to

ride on a steaming bus and stay out of the

rain one more night, one more time

reading posters in primary colors and you

realize that you are not the 

right kind of poor.

remembering real life

reports to red-faced cops that

rout you out, you run

smell of fast food on the corner, a

slick and solemn knife in your 


starving, starving.

salvation army says 

“we don’t think that you are


saved enough to


shine your hair, comb your


scrape off your


surrender your firstborn dreams and let us

see what you are willing to


shopping cart,

spare change,

spats of snow on my


soaked through,


sleeping in the back seat,

sleeping in a waiting room

sleeping in an alley next door.

sleeping in shifts:

shelter is a sin

they won’t help you commit.

Tent in the woods,

threadbare jeans and 

thrift-store jacket,

“they’ll just buy drugs with it,”

they say 

they’re only carrying plastic; but

they’ll pray for you,

they promise. and

trans men in homeless shelters might “confuse 

the poor sweet children,”

this is not the place for you.

there’s help out there, after all,

that is not us,

that’s what everybody says.

try looking harder;

try again. 

Under the limit, 

unused cans of sticky peaches




(we don’t have any left)

walking a dozen miles

washing machines sit silent

war memories and

wallet empty except for an old receipt

(Why can’t you get a job?)

work let you go because too many


X-rays at 3 AM;

your eyes are burning and

You need your birth certificate,

You need a photo ID

You need an award letter

You need a pay stub

You need a co-signer

You need better credit

You need first last and security

You need a reference

You need a reason to live.

…you don’t have those things?

You must be stupid.

You must be lazy.

You must be on drugs.

Your value to us is null.

You’ll have to come back some other time

You’ll have to help yourself.



Nic Fit (Mike #1)


The blue lights spawn

greasy guilt-sweat

In an instant:

Like the terror of cavemen I imagine

Fleeing from that shriek.


The voice that thunders over us

Is the voice of God,

My childhood god of vengeance,

Of constant


Constant watching

And judgement:

A god five hundred feet tall,

Knocking on skyscrapers

With knuckles of paint

Big as houses.


He was a troublemaker

(Mike, not God)

And I should have asked why

Why the car was so shiny

Why he had come to me

Why he was so proud.

But spackle and dust like a second skin

Made me thirsty and tired

And I wanted a cigarette like poison


Seeks itself out,

The driverless train of self-destruction.


So I got





Backseat nest of black snakes gone rigid,

bad decisions with triggers.

Making me feel oddly violated,

like a stranger exposing himself to me

in that back alley:

Seeing them put the taste of garbage

On my tongue.

But I pretended not to notice

The stink of them

the oily stench of steel

like steam from stigmata gone rotten.


That place had made us all monsters,


hungry and angry

for the same reasons.

And anyway,

what’s a little murder


between rats?

as long as he took me

to get a cigarette.


God’s voice said

“Driver, open the door”


“Keep your hands where we can see them”

and Mike’s eyes had swallowed the world

Its refuse rising

in his face.


He was starving, still, I realized

(Mike, not God)

even as he opened the door

with his hands full of backseat death

his last meal

a stomach full of rage

and lead.


he wanted me to see,

i understood too late,

to anoint him:

this is my blood

frying on crusty headlights.

he wanted a witness,




but all



was a cigarette.



On the Occasion of My Death


On the occasion of my death

please do not be afraid of my edges

so easily covered in gray.

don’t let them tell you

their “thoughts are with my family”,

(we are strangers)

that I “lit up a room”

(I didn’t):


a thousand other words that have never climbed off a groaning bus

and shivered with me. 


Do not let them press me deep 

between the pages 

of the reality upon which they insist,

my impressions are not soft.

There aren’t that many of us in here anyway,

but we have all suffered too separately

and spectacularly 

for a soundbite. 


instead I’d have you

gather, like jacks,

the scattered jetsam of a life 

lived behind glass

in full color

real the way a tale is real

as long as you tell it. 


I’ve rubbed shoulders with gods

and grieved lost wars.

I’ve walked city streets after midnight

and seen behind the worlds 

on the tip of my tongue.

I’ve seen good and evil

in hotel mirrors

and learned which eyes don’t lie

when forgiveness seems to weep


my dead friends carried with me,

in the hollows of my worn brown coat

that reeks of fire and leather

and red smoke. 


Tell them that I remembered

How the sun is hotter on your elbows

in new mexico

but the dust makes it softer on your boots

in boulder

I’ve always had the words

(just never in the right order)

in the back of bus stations

fistfuls of coffee in the neon night

Learning that grief has pitches and timbre

as panic dwindles in the rearview

A little quieter, even with that terror

between my teeth. 


You’d understand me

if you understood yourselves.

Instead you drive away your sorcerers

and break your children early.

Reality is, you say.

You are not. 


Tell them to scrawl my verse

on a bedroom wall

and watch it in the uncertain light:

tell them that all I wanted

was to be seen.


Do not let them press me deep 

between the pages 

of the reality they have chosen

in fear of the ones that were mine. 


there are still worlds

on the tip of my tongue




The camera isn’t easily fooled:

it sees the planes of existence shift

i must be careful. 

Oh, you would

like to know how i 


I’d give you a hand

but when a million voices 

are making just a little bit of


it’s not exactly easy to find

the “I”.

I am, multitudes.

The first person plural.

Like the ship that drifts

across the mind wastes,

kept alive by the movements

inside her.

here, i,

(the hull,)

neck bent like a penitent,

the ghost of gun oil and someone else’s blood

dissolving on my tongue of memory,

i pull on our costume by the door

and we smile 

(with one mouth)

for the camera.


I Would Reap

These blue teeth wake
an underwater longing:
slow fathoms
that flood my heart with tears.
in all these dreams
I excavate my own bones
sowing the earth with the salt
of my grief.
how my hands yearn
to be the roots of small trees
with iron toes–
autumn-voiced fae who sing my name
with silver tongues
from fear of steel.
their mother, who,
recognizing her prodigal son,
would take me to her bosom
calling me home:
“I’ve left a light on
for you.”

i can see that light from here,
my lungs full of poverty,
like the glint from a gold tooth
behind the asphalt lips of the captain
of the boat that passed me by

Merrily honking its horn 

so that even my drowning 

could not be silent 



Biographical Note: Malcolm Draven Reynolds is a poet and author whose favorite way to describe his life is “I wouldn’t believe it either if I hadn’t been there.” He has spent a good portion of his life dealing with the struggles of marginalization, mental illness, poverty, disability, chronic health conditions, and loss— groups, he says, whose voices are not nearly represented enough, especially in the places where they intersect. He currently lives in Maine with his partner and their excruciatingly spoiled dog, pursuing a Creative Writing degree in order to have the opportunity to teach in the future.