Whether it is a 2 a.m. revelation or a passing thought, he reaches out, grabs it and transmits it onto paper. From his pen poetry flows. Someone may mention an inspiring word, an idea, a bird, and David Burke will join his words with theirs in an impromptu poem. When finished, he "might just hand it [the poem] to them." For Burke, a poem is a letter from you to the world.
Burke has given more than words to the world. His hands have built buildings, harvested salmon and crab in rough seas, and known the self-sacrifice of army service. During his time selling Real Change, Burke has offered smiles and friendship to many.
Six or seven mornings a week he stands at the corner of First and Wall. If it snows, he digs a hole to place his feet in. There, he greets each passerby with a smile. Sometimes they smile back, losing that "unfocused look" in their eye to recognize a common humanity.
Burke "never really got along with people much," he says, but the morning interactions over the exchange of the paper are "different." Over days and weeks of seeing the same people, he has come to know them, and they him. When someone's birthday or anniversary rolls around, he slips a card into their paper. When the summer surrenders to the fall, he is given cold medicine and coffee shop gift cards. He learns of their joys and of their challenges. "They struggle, whether they have a condo or a good job."
Burke has overcome his own struggles, including living under a freeway overpass for 15 years. Now, he has "been inside for eight years" and takes it, he says, "one day at a time."
To his customers Burke says, "Thanks to all the people that pass me. I wish them the best and they're always in my heart."