About the Feature

When They Come for You

Photo by Thomas Millot


Police came through with a loudspeaker and said everyone needed to be out by 9 a.m., or else face arrest. [This despite] a ruling by the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that was effectively sustained by the US Supreme Court in December declar[ing] that police could not arrest people for sleeping in the streets if there were no available shelter beds.
—Elizabeth Whitman, Phoenix New Times, February 7, 2020


He was arguing with a palo verde tree,
she petted carefully
an invisible dog—my workplace
cubicle just past
the camp, so every day
I walked through and saw
my future, one step
false or not
at my contract job in
an “at will” state and I too
would be here.

That early morning when
the police came with their sirens,
their drawn batons, their gun
handles gripped hard
with pale knuckles,
loudspeakers blaring,
Disperse, go home
or be arrested,
nobody moved. It was
like the speech of birds,
the dawn wind cold
off the desert, and about

I was there, as were others,
one of whom,
a young black woman,
stepped forward saying,
They have no homes, idiots,
that’s why they sleep
on the streets. I remember this,
remember the man dragged
away screaming, I fought for you,
I fought for this country as they
threw him, his plastic bag
and single blanket into a squad car,
still at war, here, home, it is
our war, and we are not winning.

And then with a sigh the camp
dispersed, each with the cart,
the bag or box that held
their everything, until the streets
were clean again, and the silence
trembled like a wasp.


About the Author

Bern Mulvey’s first book, The Fat Sheep Everyone Wants,won the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Prize, and his second book, Deep Snow Country, won the Field Poetry Prize. He has also published two chapbooks, as well as numerous individual poems and articles. He teaches writing at Arizona State University.