Thanksgiving Night, Old Town, Portland, Oregon by J.P. White

union gospel mission

Thanksgiving Night, Old Town
Portland, Oregon
by J.P. White

Look at this puffing city night
that never stops to count itself
broken into coins.
What grammatical construction
do you and I know by heart
that will visit the far-ranging human tones
chattering against the wind
of the Columbia Gorge?
Out on Couch Street,
the homeless can’t wade through the snow
with their horse blankets
knotted around their throats.
One gent fishing for a pint
slides over ice with a jingle,
“Build you a snowman for 49 cents.”
Everybody’s in a jam
in this 3-season, slate-gray town
that helped invent the rain.
Even the one-day-only converts
crooning in the doorway
of the Union Gospel Mission
can’t hang onto the minor notes
of Onward Christian Soldier.
On a night like this,
when we mumble from our pockets
and move along, what member
of our blood-kin can make
one or two gestures quotable with psalm?

Originally published in Poetry (November 1986). 

PHOTO: Union Gospel Mission, Portland, Oregon. Photo by Portland Tribune. 


NOTE: Union Gospel Mission was founded in 1927, when 40 area churches came together to minister to the homeless and needy on the streets of Portland, Oregon.  Learn more at (Photo: Portland, Oregon, 1920s, near original Union Gospel Mission.)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: J.P. White spent his childhood summers sailing on Lake Erie. In the early 1980s, he worked delivering sailboats up and down the Eastern seaboard, to the Bahamas and the Caribbean. Currently, he sails a Cape Dory 25D out of St. Louis Bay on Lake Minnetonka, near Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has published essays, articles, fiction, reviews, interviews, and poetry in over 100 publications, including The Nation, The New Republic, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Gettysburg Review, American Poetry Review, and Poetry (Chicago). He is a graduate of New College (Sarasota, Florida), Colorado State University, and Vermont College in Fine Arts. His poetry collections include All Good Water (Holy Cow! Press, 2010), The Salt Hour (University of Illinois Press, 2001), and The Pomegranate Tree Speaks from the Dictator’s Garden (Holy Cow! Press, 1996). He is also the author of the novel, Every Boat Turns South.

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