My poverty is a two-week late child support check,
a food stamp account in the form of a credit card,
and an SSI deposit for my son's autism. It's energy
assistance for gas and electric and a cell phone bill
for safety. My poverty is a possibility that I won't get
paid for the job I love because the funding isn't guaranteed,
but my poverty is faithful and keeps on working anyway.
It twists $5 from the nowhere of my arm because
my 10-year-old daughter's needs will be fulfilled,
she convinces me, with a cool shade of mahogany hair dye.
My poverty sparkles in the satin bluegrass eyes of my small
boy when the state food card buys him strawberry ice-cream.
It rattles everywhere we go in that cute, clunky car that runs
on prayers I sometimes forget to say. My poverty is backyard
lit by the flicker of the yellow finch feeding on the seeds
of the drooping lemon queen. I dress my poverty in a light
crocheted sweater from Good Will over a long, faded skirt
handed down from a friend of a friend of a friend. From the bargain
bin at Walgreen's, my poverty colors my mouth peasant pink,
and I say to the children, Smile with me, as I tilt their little faces past
the tomatoes and toward the camera. They are good children
and do as they are told, and we gloss over the secret most people
don't know because, damn, do we wear our poverty well.
This poem first appeared in Mamazine.
Used with the author's permission.