“Of course not. You can just hang out with us.”

That is how Poetry Heals started for two residents of Crawford House on Wednesday evening. They are living at Crawford House while they attend the Veteran Administration’s  substance abuse program. Trying to get sober and stay that way this time.

So they came into the conference room where two other people were writing away. I showed them our book of fill-in-the-blank poem templates and some sample poems that grew out of them.

I explained, “This is what everyone is doing. Just working on a template.”

These two were really waiting to clean the conference room. Each resident has a job to help maintain Crawford house in some way: clean up meals, clean up the building. So they had their clear plastic gloves on, ready to dive into the guest bathroom.

After a few quiet minutes, one of the guys in gloves asked, “Hey, can I have a pencil?”

Kevin had picked the “I Thought You Should Know” template. With his gloves on, he got started. Austin wanted a pencil, too. The room went silent. Five heads bowed. And I just about grinned my face into a cramp.

At first, only the house manager and I were in the conference room. All the residents had ducked out with “I don’t write,” “I’m too tired,” “I am sick.” But as we sat there and talked, the manager started to write. And then the others literally trickled in. If I had worked only with the manager, I would have been satisfied. She has stuff to work on. But then there were 4 men, all struggling with addiction and some with homelessness, too.

Kevin filled all the blanks and announced, “I’m done.”

“Do you have any more to say about the poem.”


“Well you’ve come this far with your feelings, you better finish it up!”

He pulled out a piece of paper and kept writing for another 15 minutes.

Kevin read his poem about how he is sorry he had  been a lousy role model for his younger siblings and how he wants to get together with them again. Austin wrote about how his addiction has his number. Jim wrote about how he is addicted to loving his family, and that’s a good thing. Gilbert wrote about how he wants to be a better person. They listened to each other, they celebrated each other, they smiled and they want to do more of this poetry writing thing.

The evening broke up with a couple of guys taking blank templates to work on later. The plastic gloves had come off somewhere along the line, so they were put back on. Time for chores. Everyone helped me pack up.

Echoes of “See you again, soon” “Thanks for coming” “I’ll be here next time, too” sent me back into the cold night with a very warm heart.