Friday October 31st, 2014, 11:18 pm (EDT)

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Ballad of the Poverties

There’s the poverty of the cockroach kingdom and the rusted toilet bowl
The poverty of to steal food for the first time
The poverty of to mouth a penis for a paycheck
The poverty of sweet charity ladling
Soup for the poor who must always be there for that
There’s the poverty of theory poverty of the swollen belly shamed
Poverty of the diploma mill the ballot that goes nowhere
Princes of predation let me tell you
There are poverties and there are poverties

There’s the poverty of cheap luggage bursted open at immigration
The poverty of the turned head, the averted eyes
The poverty of bored sex of tormented sex
The poverty of the bounced check the poverty of the dumpster dive
The poverty of the pawned horn the poverty of the smashed reading glasses
The poverty pushing the sheeted gurney the poverty cleaning up the puke
The poverty of the pavement artist the poverty passed-out on pavement
Princes of finance you who have not lain there    
There are poverties and there are poverties

There is the poverty of hand-to-mouth and door-to-door
And the poverty of stories patched-up to sell there
There’s the poverty of the child thumbing the Interstate
And the poverty of the bride enlisting for war
There’s the poverty of prescriptions who can afford
And the poverty of how would you ever end it
There is the poverty of stones fisted in pocket
And the poverty of the village bulldozed to rubble
Princes of weaponry who have not ever tasted war
There are poverties and there are poverties
There’s the poverty of wages wired for the funeral you
Can’t get to the poverty of the salary cut
There’s the poverty of human labor offered silently on the curb
The poverty of the no-contact prison visit
There’s the poverty of yard sale scrapings spread
And rejected the poverty of eviction, wedding bed out on street
Prince let me tell you who will never learn through words
There are poverties and there are poverties

You who travel by private jet like a housefly
Buzzing with the other flies of plundered poverties
Princes and courtiers who will never learn through words
Here’s a mirror you can look into:  take it:  it’s yours.


For Jim and Arlene Scully
with gratitude to François Villon and to Galway Kinnell

Adrienne Rich is the author of more than sixteen volumes of poetry and five nonfiction prose books, the most recent being A Human Eye: Essays on Art in Society (Norton). She is the recipient of numerous awards and prizes, including a MacArthur Fellowship and the 1999 Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.

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