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Books and covers

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The Observer was walking back to the office last week when a homeless dude stopped us in the River Market, a guy in a dirty ball cap, red-rimmed eyes and three days of stubble. We expected the usual request for change — we always try to give something if we've got it — but this dude was different. He had a handful of books.

They were simple: white paper, printed out somewhere for cheap and stapled crooked down the spine. "Hookers, Ex-Wives and Other Lovers" by Justin Booth. "Poetry," he said. "Five bucks." The Observer has never been able to turn down a book.

The blurry photo on the back shows him as a much younger and more put-together man, in a clean, pressed jacket. There's what looks to be a drink in his hand, and snowy woods behind him. "His poetry reflects the life that he lives," the blurb below the photo reads. "He struggles with addiction and homelessness, but always manages to find poetry in the moment." Worked as a bricklayer, the blurb says. Rode with an outlaw motorcycle club. Served time. He took five rumpled ones and rushed away south, toward — he said — the McDonald's.

As The Observer walked, we flipped open the book, not expecting much. Soon, though, we had to stop in the middle of the hot sidewalk, poleaxed to the point of immobility by the loveliness.

The poems are all about the shadow Little Rock where the homeless live — a city full of pigeons that coo "oh no, oh no, oh no," and dark alleys where anything might happen. Such beauty, from such an unexpected source. What was it the man said about books and covers?

Here's our current fave:

WHERE WE ALL SLEEP

I walk the wee hour

through the neon lit

part of town

past the tattoo man

his machine buzzing

dragons and butterflies

and other ink dreams

into college kids who

have never been

here before

the angels of the sidewalk

pop their gum and yawn

strolling

slow as morning fog

then abra ka dabra

and disappear

into a strangers car

I wave at

mouthwash jimmy

his tired face split open

a Listerine smile

kicking hope

broken pipes

come to the place

where we all sleep

Tammy is drunk

and cursing

big baby sells his dope

the queers have

just started cruising

and red looks crazy

for cops

sleeping bags

and church handout

blankets stretch

corner

to corner

I sit down

on the curb

to untie my laces

the final encore

of a concert at the ballpark

across the river

drifts

down on me

as I close

my eyes to sleep

Also, music from unexpected places: The ice cream truck. It creeps through the neighborhood playing an awful mechanical version of Turkey in the Straw over and over, which gets on The Observer's nerves. But to our great surprise, a new tune, ding-ding free, was broadcast last week. It was familiar but we couldn't quite pin it down. Then — all of sudden — the words of the refrain came to us: "Oh you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union, I'm sticking to the union. Oh, you can't scare me, I'm sticking to the union, I'm sticking to the union 'til the day I die."

Sounds like a wobbly has taken the wheel of the ice cream wagon.

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