This is a poem that called forth varied reactions in writing class. Some found it depressing and it raised confusion; both made me doubt my reasons for introducing it. Finally, though someone called it beautiful, which completed the gamut of responses. I found it to be a poem that unfolded with every reading. I read it out loud in the beginning of four different groups and it surprised me every time. My first reason for using it had to do with the idea of money, which is a necessity many creative endeavor-rees struggle with. This poem is also part of an interesting series by the poet. I enjoy the way he’s found to refer to himself!
J. Learns the Difference Between Poverty and Having No Money Jeffrey Schultz
After Ernesto Trejo
And the morning’s marine layer cloud cover’s just beginning to unhinge,
to let the buttery light of another daybreak slip through
And weigh down the dead lawns and sagging rooftops
of this neighborhood, where Cold War era television antennas
Still cast shadows like B-52s heading offshore, where poverty, this early
is the smell of Malt-O-Meal and the dregs of thin beer
Washed down the sink. Where the shift begins at 7AM,
but consciousness has a way of coming round as slowly
As this old computer monitor flickers its dull sixteen colors into being.
On it, the names and numbers of laundromat and liquor store owners,
Fast food managers and lawn care companies; it’s my job
to cold call them, read from a script on the benefits of membership
In the Executive Dining Club, not take No for an answer.
I’m no good and both the boss and I know it, and he’s hovering
When the scraped-out voice of the woman on my phone answers me with
My husband’s been killed, and then, instead of hanging up,
Throws the receiver down next to something— dishwasher or window AC,
I don’t know— but something close, it sounds, to tearing itself apart,
Something cycling through an awful, screeching noise.
And it’s because I’ve paused that the boss flings a pencil
Into the wall in front of me and edges closer, and because of the fear
of unemployment forms or the sky opening up if I were to walk out,
And because this sound— the un-oiled, flak-fouled crack of it—
has left me standing suddenly at the end of a runway, planes
Screaming low overhead and loaded for the beginning of the end of the world,
that I start back into the script, start back as if I believe each word,
Even though, in the rattle and dust of the jet-wash, no one hears a thing.