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Working Poor
by
Dana Wildsmith


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How do you keep all your balls in the air?
You balance and chat. You talk and juggle.

You say to the people who send the bills,
“I’ll pay you next week.” They’ll believe you

because you look like them; you go to church;
you have a degree; you live where they live.

However, don’t let yourself believe your lies.
Post these debts in your head like threats:

$230, the 6th; $70, the 10th.
Pay the next one in line, or pay mostly.

“Didn’t I send you the right amount?
Sorry. Too much on my mind right now,”

you’ll say. They’ll understand. The job, the kids,
community work—your brain starts to go.

And remind your friends you’re a health nut, which is why
you can’t spring for drinks after work. They’ll believe.

They’ve all seen you riding your bike to work,
to the store, the library—a whole lot further

than they’d ever go on foot.
What a jock you are! What a joke that is—
the library is free entertainment;
the milk you’re planning to buy with dimes

from your son’s piggy bank has to last for
a week and so does the gas in your car.
What if one of your kids gets sick
and you have to drive to the doctor?
There’s not enough gas for an extra trip
and you couldn’t pay a doctor’s bill.

Stop. Neither can you afford “what ifs.”
Living without enough money is like
riding your bike: stop pedaling and you’ll crash.
You have to keep ideas spinning

like spokes on a wheel. Your cleverness is
the wheel. Your slick talk rolls it along.

From Our Bodies Remember (Sow’s Ear Press, 1999).
Used with the author’s permission.
Purchase a framed print of this poem.

 

Dana Wildsmith is the author of four collections of poetry and a memoir, Back to Abnormal: Surviving with an Old Farm in the New South. Born and raised in rural South Georgia, she traveled extensively as a Navy wife before settling in Bethlehem, Georgia, on a century-old family farm outside Atlanta. Dana's love of family, nature, music, tradition, and life's simple joys is the focal point of her poignant, compelling work, which has been featured in numerous journals, magazines, and anthologies, including the highly acclaimed Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia. She is a gifted, generous teacher as well, sharing her passion for language from ESL classes at Lanier Technical College to residencies acoss the country. Most recently, Dana was named as a finalist in the essay category for the Georgia Author of the Year. Learn more about her at www.danawildsmith.com.

 


New comments are closed for now.
Glen Sorestad:
Well written -- there's a kick in that slick.
Posted 09/02/2012 09:49 AM
KevinArnold:
Recent financial crises changed all our lives, but few have written about it. Fortunately, Dana had enough of her wheel of cleverness left to craft a fine poem.
Posted 09/02/2012 08:48 AM
Eiken:
Wonderful flow and great last line, slick talk rolls it along, love the circles in this poem, the balls being juggled to start the flow rolling. Maire in Ireland.
Posted 09/02/2012 04:53 AM
Jlschuster:
Wow! Your slick talk rolls it along is a great line. I really like this poem. Good work, Dana.
Posted 09/02/2012 04:11 AM


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