05/03/17 — Pain in the poems

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Pain in the poems

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on May 3, 2017 9:57 AM

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Susan Williams flips through a copy of the Mount Olive Review that featured two of her poems as she talks about her life and inspiration for her art. Her constant companion, Tater, a Chiweenie, a dachshund/chihuahua mix, looks on.

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Pictured are several of Susan Williams' poetry keepsakes, a photocopy of an article done by the News & Observer when she was homeless, her poetry journal from the 1990s that is full of handwritten works and a copy of the Mount Olive Review that featured two of her poems.

Behind the lines of Susan Williams' poems lies the pain of years of abuse as a child. The poems are also filled with the hardship of being homeless.

Putting the anguish she has suffered during her life onto paper has helped the 68-year-old woman endure it -- and even start to mend.

Today, Ms. Williams pens poems just about every day about the things she sees around her. She and her little dog Tater live in Waynesborough House.

Ms. Williams, a native of Wilson, began writing poetry around the age of 14 or 15.

"I started because my home life was a living nightmare," she said. "It was beatings every day by the woman that gave birth to me. I don't even call her mother. She'd always tell me she hated me and wished I'd never been born. She said I looked too my like my daddy, but I couldn't help how he was."

The poems helped Ms. Williams deal with life. She had a lot of them hidden away in a back room off the porch of her house. But her mother found them and threw them all away.

"Writing helped me get through that bad time in my life," she said. "I could put it down on paper and describe it my way. Then it didn't hurt so bad. And it gave me a release, like a strong pain pill."

Ms. Williams said she didn't know what a normal childhood was like. She left home at 18 to get married, but it was so bad that she left after four years.

Finally, with freedom she had never known, Ms. Williams traveled around the county, doing various jobs here and there.

In Atlanta, she worked in a hotel and did some modeling at Atlanta College of Art. Being 6 foot 2 inches helped get her that job.

She was a waitress in Alabama and drove a cab in New York.

In Arizona, she worked on Lamborghinis, Maseratis and cars like these.

"I could pull a motor out of a car, take in apart, put it back together again and put in back in the car," Ms. Williams said.

"These jobs helped me make up for the bad childhood home life I had. It was a sense of adventure. And I'm a Gemini, and we do strange things."

Ms. Williams moved to Raleigh from New York. She had saved up some money and was staying in a hotel and working at a telephone answering service.

"My money ran out and I had to go to a homeless shelter," she said. "I lost my job because I was living in a shelter. There were so many things that bothered me about it because I knew I could do just about any kind of work. I'd go out every day looking for jobs. When I told them I lived in a homeless shelter, they said they didn't need me."

Depression set in and Ms. Williams once again wrote poems to deal with the reality of being homeless. After an article came out in the Raleigh newspaper, she was dubbed the "Homeless Poet of Raleigh."

Six months later, Ms. Williams began cleaning houses for various people and pulled herself up out of homelessness -- and never looked back.

After staying with a cousin in Kinston, Ms. Williams became a resident of Waynesborough House in 2004.

Most of her poems are handwritten, but that is changing because of tremors in her hands. Now she is forced to use a computer to compose her poetry.

Ms. Williams has to use a scooter to get around because she has neuropathy in both her feet. Tater has her own special basket on front of the scooter so she can go anywhere Ms. Williams goes.

Ms. Williams has had two poems in a publication by the Women's Center in Raleigh and one in the Mount Olive Review.

One poem that expresses some of her hurt goes: "If I could be a child again/I'd make my Mama love me and never treat me bad/And, oh my goodness yes, I'd really have a dad/Each year when Christmas came/ Santa would be real good to me/He'd bring me shoes and clothes and toys/And lots of really good food/He'd give me back my Granny, the one I loved so much/I'd never be alone again, I'd never know much hurt/But I'm not a child anymore and can't play those pretend games/And every day when I wake up/ Things are always the same."

Ms. Williams has written about a thousand poems and hopes to one day put them in a book.

Not only do her poems help her heal, but so do the brothers and sisters she never knew she had -- more than a dozen of them. She's met seven of them and hopes to meet the rest one day.

"When I first met my sister Delilah, who is seven years younger than me, it felt like my heart that had been stomped on so many times by the woman who gave birth to me was healing," Ms. Williams said. "And with every one I have met, it heals some more. I'm back to being a human again instead of a piece of garbage. It's been a long trip."