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John La Greca

John La Greca is Canada’s Charles Bukowski, writing with deep and at times blistering honesty and humour of a side of Okanagan culture never seen in tourist brochures. For nearly fifty years, he has been our greatest poet of the streets. For all this time, he has lived with a mind given many diagnoses, including schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder. He has been in and out of care since 1967, surviving on inadequate government and community support, drawn by poverty, curiosity and community into close relationships with homeless and disenfranchised people on the margins of society. Out of these circumstances, he has grown in strength, compassion and stature. As the streets where he spends his days and much of his nights have become increasingly the realm of a drug culture, he has struggled against an increasing sense of alienation from home. Homeless Memorial is John’s remarkable record of a city he knows better than anyone else, which he places within the context of his extensive readings of history and world society.

Rita’s Revenge

Rita is the cook at the Mission.
Correction: she’s the longest surviving cook at the Mission.
I’ve seen various cooks returning home in the evening.
They had their children with them to act as bearers.
These ladies were unfortunate.
They didn’t have cars to stow away food during the day.
Some cooks are generous and are popular.
Rita is tending towards elderhood.
She says she raised two kids all on her own.
Probably. I’m sure Rita is where she is because she knows secrets.
Sometimes those who know secrets
Get temporarily banned to show who’s boss,
But sometimes I wonder if there is a boss in the place,
Which is why most of the addicts
And hookers at the Mission skip Rita’s “soup”
And head to the donuts.

Life Should Not Be Lived at All Costs

Whimpering like a dog,
Hanging on in a prison camp in Siberia,
In Dachau or on the streets of Calcutta
Is for martyr-complexed individuals
Who have not learned saintliness.
Buddha said Accept suffering, death is inevitable.
I do not think he meant that suffering is an end to itself,
That it earned merit toward his brand of salvation.
If there is no meaning, hope or quality in life,
Let go and feed the sharks,
Send the soul to the wind! If there is wisdom,
Then I am sure that a well-fed dog
Can impart it without half so much anxiety,
Depravity, degradation or humiliation.
There is only one statue to a starving Buddha.
The rest are fat and serene, in contemplation.
Buddha took a healthier approach to life,
As did Christ after his time in the desert.
Wealth is a trap that denies the suffering of the poor.
Jesus was not asking us to praise suffering and death,
Like Buddha. He wanted us to be ready to go through it.
He knew desperation on the Cross
When He called to His Father.
He knew He had no choice but to accept His end.
In my mind, He did it no more gracefully than the average person.
Heroism in suffering and death exists
In the God-induced hallucinations of forest-dwelling warriors
And die-hard Nazis of the Second World War.

I Don’t Know You from Adam

This is God speaking.
No. It isn’t. It is John la Greca.
In the morning, at the Food Bank,
Before I can snatch two cans of beans
And some good bread off a shelf
That they hide in a back room and then roll out,
I have to listen,
Along with the rest of a great crowd,
For up to fifteen minutes,
To prayer and inspirational talks.
God has blessed me with poverty.
He has love for me. There’s a plan for my life.
They all want me God blessed.
Their message is clear: take what you are given.
If someone gives you three toothbrushes
And three years’ supply of toothpaste,
Take it and be grateful.
Tomorrow it may be a case of spoiled avocadoes.

I Want a Job

One day, a woman my age,
With dyed, blond hair, beautifully cut,
Well brushed, wearing an expensive,
Knee-length wool coat,
Presented me with a dollar. I shook my head,
And gruffly said no thanks. Ten feet from her,
I muttered that I would rather have sex with her.
In some ways it was a form of protest,
Like a British Trotskyite protester
Flashing her breasts before a Conservative
Member of parliament.
Shock value, I suppose.
Some kind of urban Cargo Cult.
I didn’t want a quickie with that woman.
I wanted something tangible,
To smell and touch,
All with her pinky up at tea.
You can’t do all that
If you have no income beyond chump change.
I get angry when a woman
Thinks that all I want for the day
Is a coffee.


From Homeless Memorial
by John La Greca
© 2018 John La Greca
Published by Ekstasis Editions