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  • Greg Fields

One Night in Berkeley

Updated: Feb 24, 2019


Outside my apartment early this morning, well before sunrise, a homeless man was staggering about. He woke me first with his anger, a profane ranting that barked like a dog’s snarl. I couldn’t make out the particulars. All I heard was anger – vicious, violent and helpless. All he had were his words, whatever they meant and wherever they arose.


He kept at it for at least half an hour. I thought about peeking out the window to see where he was, and what he looked like. It’s easy to entertain a vision. So many homeless wander around Berkeley, and so many look disheveled beyond the point of all loss. I imagined a youngish man, perhaps in his twenties but nor older than 40, long hair, unkempt beard and clothes that fit inconsistently – perhaps a shirt too large or jeans with more than a few tatters.


I didn’t look, though. Even this display deserved some dignity, and the shield of anonymity. He lives in his own private swirls and eddies. I had no call to invade them.


After a time his rantings changed. The anger faded, perhaps expunged, like a panting breath. What replaced it was a guttural moan that rose from deep within him, the bellow of a wounded animal. I cannot know what bore it, nor the precision of the agonies he roared out. A loss of time, of youth, of power, of relevance, of sanity…….Gone, and forever gone in his shredded psyche, his unstitched heart. He roared, and moaned, and cried from the throat.


At last, spent, he sobbed rhythmically, then softened his breathing in a regular pattern, and I heard in it a comfort, almost as if he were pleasuring himself, his hollow moans transformed into quick and definite breaths.


Over an hour I heard outside my window what I cannot feel. But I know it is human, and because it is human, it is shared. There is no fear in that. There is no peace, either.

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