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Published:June 13th, 2010 21:53 EST
Old Testament Prophets

Why Do Homeless Men Often Look Like Old Testament Prophets

By Djelloul (Del) Marbrook (Editor/Mentor)


I see them looking like Old Testament prophets, pushing supermarket carts loaded with their filthy belongings. I see them on country roads and city streets. I know how we dismiss them. We say they`re mad and nothing can be done for them.


I know they may be thinking thoughts as awful as their remnants or thoughts more noble than I can imagine. I know poems are taking shape in some of those tormented heads, and mathematical formulas, and gibberish.

If they stare at me it is never dauntingly, as some foolish men do. If they speak, it is often as innocent as angels and children, even if it makes no sense. And what is sense? How do I know?

I see these men in great paintings by famous artists. I see them on the ceilings of chapels and in famous frescoes.

Cardboard boxes and junk-filled woods are their vicarages, rectories and manses. I would rather hear them than preachers because I know what preachers are up to, and it is not the assignment of angels. But these men, it seems to me, may well wish to tell me the terrible things an angel has told them to tell.

We emptied the mental hospitals to rid ourselves of the burden of caring for them, and we are still complaining about taxes. We sweep them off the streets, moving them around the way we rearrange the prostitutes. They are not as decorative. And it is unimaginable to us that in some societies the mad are considered rare flowers, divine gifts.

I know this tribe has divine gifts for us. All poets know, all artists. Because no good poem or painting can be made without venturing into the realm of the mad. We plan to return. They did not return. We plan to return to receive approbation for our journey. They receive nothing but scraps and contempt. Why did they not return? What did they find, what did they see? Do we care? And what does it say of us if we don`t?

As for the women, with their plastic bags and pushcarts, I think of Boudica and Zenobia and Hypatia, all the women men have tried so hard to break. I think of the church, existing, it often seems to me, to oppress women. How can it oppress them without oppressing us? Let the theologians speak.

And while we wait for them to speak "it will be a very long wait when it comes to this subject "we might consider the paradox of this very writing.

Why do I start off speaking of men and only at the end speak of women? I think it`s because when I think of the prophets I think of the paintings of them, men speaking to men, men painting men, men insisting only men count. And when the artists turned to women wasn`t it for the pleasure of men?

So my mind turned to those paintings, and not to all the paintings that could have been made of women by women, and not even all the paintings by women that sit in storage in our museums because the world is still governed, much for the worse, by men. It is hard to step out of our histories, as the pushcart men and women have stepped out of theirs. Not like stepping out of our clothes and being made lovely by artists, not at all.

Do you know what happens when you Google bag ladies? You get bag lady cartoons and comics. What kind of society is that? Google beggars and you`re taken to India, as if we have none in America. Google cardboard houses or homes and you get playhouses for sale. Even the search bots are co-conspirators when it comes to indifference.

When I bring myself to look, really look, into those faces, I do not see corporate schemers, politicians. I do not see the gleam of ambition, except perhaps to live another day, and often not even that.

Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.

His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal Latte first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.

He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.

Del`s book, Far From Algiers   New review of Far from Algiers
Artists Hill, Literal Latte fiction first prize
Djelloul Marbrook Blog
His mother`s art:   His aunt`s art:

Far From Algiers Video Trailer #1 from Brent Robison on Vimeo.