The poor keep dying. After all, they are
human, and the rich do not sleep well.
The enormous weight never eases
for the poor. This woman we love
enumerates loss, those she has lost
and those she is about to lose. Her heart
attacked her in the bright working day.
I called it the horses galloping once
through my body. She has no metaphors
fancy enough to appear on this page.
She’s related to my father, my mother:
the proof they share is their callused hands.
Social Security tells her she makes
too much money to qualify
for disability. What can I do?
she says, I have to work all these houses
to pay my mortgage, buy gas for the car,
put food on the table, pay all the bills
while my grandchildren and daughters’
husbands die from brain cancer, like my sons.
What would they do if I fell and never got up?
Rise at dawn, clean this house, clean that one,
clean another before going home,
feeding my family and myself and love
my man long after my beloved died . . .
My man has disability, and knows
how to make me feel better at night
before I sleep. I do what the poor do,
I try to live while I can. I was born
to work for the rich, to give birth, to die.
The father of my children went crazy.
He was a wild Irishman but not sane
anymore. You might say I was to blame.
I was too this or that or not enough
for a man who was a logger all his life.
Think how cold and damp the woods get
in winter, which is half the year here.
How a tree falls unless the crosscut fails
or when it slices through and you can breathe
easy. But the next one is never like the last . . .
My head feels uneasy, he frowned, I need
to see what's wrong . . . That’s how she started
with the first house, then the next, a twelve-hour day
every day. Her heart could take her any time.
She will marry again and we will stand
beside her and her groom and wish them luck,
kiss and hug, take them to dinner, love them
as we have loved her. She will be happy,
her work still impossible, her life hard
in all her hours save when she loves to love
and be loved and her body comes back to life.
I listen. I do not say that I knew
what labor was before I found my work.
My father put me to work for others,
my mother told me to do what I loved.
I worked for others for years. I loved.
Like this. Of all who loved me, I loved one
who will not let me go, who says, Sit down
and let yourself work hard on what you love
impossibly, like me, I know enough
to go out into the Irish day and work,
I teach like my mother did but what I teach
I learned at home, in my adolescence
that stayed with me until I was fifty,
afraid if I went on doing what I did
all my life, one man and then another,
I would die and so would you and where
we are is full of birds and fish and deer . . .
We must be happy, we are not so poor.
We love each other more than before.
You don’t drink, I no longer whore,
what more can we ask of life?. . . I don’t know
what to say when the topic is always love.
This goes on too long. Even a day moves
until night takes over and the sun sleeps.
I put away my good luck to have long life.
I sleep. In my dreams I am always in cities,
I am happy to be alive there. The new
is everywhere I have never lived
and most likely will never see, but I’m there
in dreams, then rise each morning to do this
in a place where the luck of the poor is death.
If there are others who say such words as these,
let them flood the world with their words of the poor.
(6 April 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander