Poverty, amorphous mishmash of images tangled in my brain, synapses that over-fire, dendrites of my nervous system. Why would I want to disentangle and examine? Because someone asked me to: Poverty.
Forty years ago living with cockroaches who seem really fast and really smart. One waves its tentacle (at me) freaks me out because I can see there is intelligence there. It wants what I want. To be left alone. To survive.
No light in the refrigerator.
And nothing in said refrigerator, just gray steel rungs and an icebox that needs defrosting.
Nothing in the narrow yellow kitchen cupboard.
Not even the heel of the proverbial loaf of bread.
No encyclopedias. No bookshelves.
But I have a library card.
And I use it.
All the time.
Armholes of my dress too tight, hem too short,
so I don’t go to school for a week because am ashamed.
By the next week I’m over it.
No car. Walk everywhere or I take the bus.
No Girl Scouts or family picnics. Or summer camp.
No going to the movie theater. But there’s television until the tube burns out.
I never see a doctor.
I never see a dentist.
I do get some sort of funding when I become legally blind at age 12
so I can get eyeglasses to see the chalkboard.
I sleep on a foam mattress on the floor until I outgrow
the floorspace. Then I sleep on the couch.
No warm coat. Hand me down coat from a cousin.
It’s not warm either.
I wear sneakers all the time.
They get soaked in the rain.
I’m used to being cold.
I’ve stopped being hungry.
I stop wanting.
But there is love and the ocean so close to my door.
The waves buoy me over all difficulty, cradle me
teach me I will never drown.
And there is music and picture books of art. And singing
and an avenue of gardens that are replete with something the same thing
as the kitchen cockroach, but with no fear.
And cats who congregate around me silently in the twilight, so many
that I frighten the neighbors because they do not understand
but I am beginning to understand
where true poverty resides. And it is not here. Not with me.
Not where it counts.
And I hold that spark of knowing deep within me and I shield it from the world
lest the fire break out
before its time.
Sip a little more: