Tuesday, April 7, 2015

NaPoWriMo Day #7

So far I've read three books of poetry this week:

Bicycles by Nikki Giovanni
A Yes-or-No Answer by Jane Shore
Instructions For the Wishing Light by Ann Staley

I am halfway through Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, and while it's a bit comical, I'm finding myself bored so today I'm moving on to Our Andromeda by Brenda Shaughnessy.  Perhaps at the end of the month I'll go back to complete Masters' book.  We'll see.

Anyway, I struggled a bit with ideas for the prompt over at NaPoWriMo today, and finally got a poem down.

The prompt today went something like this:  keeping to the theme of poetry’s value, Wallace Stevens famously wrote that “money is a kind of poetry.” So today, I challenge you to write about money! It could be about not having enough, having too much (a nice kind of problem to have), the smell, or feel, or sensory aspects of money. It could also just be a poem about how we decide what has value or worth.

Maybe its the former grad student in me, but the first thing that came to mind in terms of currency was, perhaps, money (having too little or too much), which then led me into the idea of poverty and homelessness.

I once wrote a 34 page research paper for a Social Problems class in grad school.  This paper was just shining, full with about 25 references, and all APA style.  I was proud.  Then I was heart-broken to receive a (shoking) grade of 'D'....and then angered (beyond all get-out) when my professor told me that my paper was more political than it was about social problems.  I begged to differ!  My paper had full case studies of homeless people, their budget, their personal problems and tragic stories.  Politics played a role only in one section of my paper in the argument (really, backed by facts, figures, and other statistical data) that poverty was a political issue due to large corporations and the lie of the trickle down effect.

I kept my pride and held my ground.  I did not exempt, nor delete, any of my political statements or research from the paper.  I ended up with a C (my first and only during my degree).  And I wore that C loud and proud!

Anyway, enough of the back-story.  This poem is a true story...I hope you enjoy it:

Of Currency and Sophistication

The men on the streets
Exchange their currency in nickels,
And every now and then,
If they’re lucky,
Some businessman
In a fancy sports-jacket,
With a sequined-lawyer wife
In three-hundred dollar heels,
May slip a few quarters
Into their Dixie cups.
When speaking the rhetoric
Of poverty, most people
Don’t notice the need,
They wear blinders
For political statement,
Stuff their pockets in preparation
For the rainy season.
But what if it never arrives
With holes in its shoes,
Unshaven and smelling
Like Monday morning’s garbage?

Besides, who ever heard
Of anyone falling asleep
still hungry?
I grew up raised on
Garden beans and kindness
Served Southern-style.
We had kitchen cupboards
Full of culinary delights,
Fresh meals whipped up daily
By the stern, happy hands
Of our housewife mothers,
And a smokehouse full of
Canned goods, stored by the
Still-working hands of
My late grandmother.

I was an unsophisticated twenty
Before I ever spied
The disheveled face of poverty.
He was sitting on a bench
In the middle of campus,
Too old to be a student and
Too dirty to pass for a professor.
He sat like a bearded sire
In his second-hand army jacket
And a duffel bag full
Of who-knows-what.
My roommate was a hippie then,
The depressed starving-artist sort
Who wrote the beginnings of
Anthology-worthy short stories
But lacked the proper discipline
To ever complete even one.
So when the homeless man
waved to us  a toothless-smiled hello
My best friend insisted
That we all be introduced.

He smelled like stale beer
But talked at length
The robbery of higher education,
Quoted all the greats
And ripped his own sonnet
As if we were a mere
Three-person poetry slam.
We loitered for nearly an hour
Until rainclouds distracted
Us from talk of the arts
With the threat of a downpour
As students scattered loudly
From the open doors
Of the English building
Like circus clowns set lose.
We offered Tom The Beggar
A five dollar bill,
My mere weeks’ worth
Of Ramon Noodles, or a
Seven o’clock evening trip
To the library café.

As an offering of thanks,
He encouraged us
to take a generous swig
From his marijuana joint.
We properly denied,
Not from lack of craving, but
Because of the spying eyes
Of light-poled security cameras.
He smoked as he smiled,
And bid us a smelly-breathed
Goodbye, ambling
A few seconds later
Towards the road signs
Of a busy highway intersection.


  1. I went to Berkeley. I saw many folk like him, edged or shoved out by polite society. Where I now live, in OC - the disdain and the 3-c-note shoes are everywhere. Powerful ~

  2. I found the back story interesting - and the poem riveting.


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