I saw it last night, the mortgage
bird with heavy hunched shoulders
nesting in shredded hundred dollar bills
its long curved claws seize, devour.
You feed it and feed it in hopes
it will grow smaller. Does this make
sense? After five years of writing
checks on the first day of every month
it is swollen and red eyed and hungry.
It has passed from owner to owner,
sold by the bank to Ohio and thence
to an ersatz company that buys up slave
mortgages and is accountable to Panama
or perhaps Luxembourg, cannot be
communicated with by less than four lawyers
connected end to end like Christmas
tree light sets and blinking in six
colors simultaneously by fax.
It says, I squat on the foot of your
bed when the medical bills shovel in.
When your income withers like corn
stalks in a Kansas drought, I laugh
with a sound of sand hitting a windshield,
laughter dry as parched kernels from which
all water has been stolen by the sun.
Each month I wring you a little more.
I own a corner of your house, say
the northeast corner the storms hit
when they roar from the blast of the sea
churned into grey sudsy cliffs, and as
the storm bashes the dunes into sand
it washes away, so I can carry off
your house any time you fail to feed
me promptly. Your misfortune is my
best gamble. I am the mortgage bird
and my weight is on your back.
From What Are Big Girls Made Of? (Knopf, 1997)
Used with the author’s permission.