Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime?

This week's prompt at Poetry Thursday is about "change." They're doing this because they have changed their website, moved it off of Blogger and totally revamped the look and content. (It's fabulous.) As soon as I read the prompt, I immediately thought of this poem, which is about change. But it was also in need of a change, so I spent the week revising it. It is now about twice the length of the original and much more clear and descriptive (I think) of the situation.

A note about the content...when I was in college, my brother liked to hang out with gutter punks and he brought home someone named God and got drunk with him on Popov vodka. This poem is inspired by that, not by a misspent youth on the streets. I'm pretty wimpy in real life.

Spare Some Change

On the day my friend God baptized me,
dipped his dirty brown fingers in Popov vodka,
sprinkled my sunburned forehead,
I'd already lived
2 months on the street.

Already traded my pink retainer
for 5 dented cans of beans. Already defended
our drafty warehouse squat
from rats the size of my 2 fists. Dove head first
into the McDonald's dumpster, rescued
3 garbage bags of stale hamburger buns.
Drank rainwater from crumpled coffee cups
thrown in the gutter. Memorized
my own way of asking for change:
Spare some nickels for a girl
who can't go home?

Already thought of home
on those dank drizzling nights when you shake
even in an alcoholic slumber. Healed
from my first street beating, black eyes
cracked rib, for picking
someone else's off ramp. Already remembered
Dad's hands on the covers, on the blue nightgown

the thick stench of whisky and coke
on his hot breath. Already forgot
that girl I once was,
braces, B-average, and brand new
shoes every other month. Girl who pretended to care
who's daddy got her the car, who's mommy
left Vicodin unattended in the medicine cabinet.
Already tried calling Mom twice,
hung up before I lost the change.

The day I was baptized, renamed
on a yellow lit street at midnight,
behind a dumpster, in front
of all of my friends,
I'd already chosen this empty stomach life
because some things are better
than living at home.


Dennis said...

I hate that this is true either in part or in whole. I hate that “holly shit!” was the first thing I said after reading this. And I hate that you know so much more than you should. This is beautiful, but in a very brutal way. And I’m very sorry.

Dennis said...

And most of all I hate that I didn't read your disclaimer!

Jessica said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jessica said...

Thanks for the comment, Dennis. I'm glad that you liked the poem.

I wish it wasn't obnoxious to post in the disclaimer, above the poem, in big capital letters "This isn't me." But I thought that might be overkill. :)

That being said, there are a lot of kids and teens that this does happen to and this is a much larger problem than we care to admit.

gkgirl said...

even if this wasn't true
for you,
i'm sure you have still
the everyday life of many
children out there.

very intense...

dogfaceboy said...

Never, never, never assume a poem is true. As I say in this week's post, it is not a genre definition that poetry should be nonfiction.

That said, I didn't believe it was you, and I hadn't read the disclaimer. I didn't need to, and I felt the power of your excellent language and rhythm and story, and they took me to a place that I could see, and it didn't matter to me that the you wasn't you. You led me to it. That's what you're supposed to do.

I have posted lots of poetry about kissing other people's husbands and about talking to goats and about planes crashing on my house. Those are not true. But I hope I take people there regardless.

Great work.

Poet with a Day Job said...

This is a very thick, terse piece - I really like the way you stacked images, and used language, assonance and consonance to make each image a real mouthful, yet not feel overwhelming. I especially love the B-average line. B is one of my favorite letters/sounds to build bold mouthfuls of sound from.

twilightspider said...

This is heart-wrenching. So vividly described, so painfully close to the truth. Storytelling at its best.

Jessica said...

Wow. I love that I can have these conversations about Truth in Poetry with bright and interesting poets around the world.

Thanks for your comments, gkgirl. I agree that this is true for many children and I also think that it should be acknowledged and discussed via poetry.

Dogfaceboy-- I couldn't have said it better myself. I write alot of persona poetry and I do because I don't necessarily believe in a journalistic truth in poetry. I do believe however in the emotional truth in poetry. So, I should be able to convey an authentic emotional truth through a character or fictional voice.

That being said, not everybody agrees in this mode of thinking and alot of poets out there don't write "I" unless it's them.

PWADJ-- thanks for the comments. I didn't intentionally have so many Bs at first, but they just kept coming out. Kind of a tongue-twister. Glad you liked it.

twilightspider -- I really appreciate your praise. Thanks for stopping by!

ecm said...

Great poem! You really used some strong images. I especially liked the phrase, "empty stomach life" I like that this isn't your own's nice to imagine the world through different eyes.

Rethabile said...

I read Dennis's comment and went back to read the disclaimer again. Powerful stuff, here. Love the poem.

Catherine said...

That's a really powerful poem. I don't think I would have taken it as being about you, even if I hadn't read the disclaimer. I don't in general believe a poem has to be nonfiction. Or, if it is nonfiction, that it has to be nonfiction about the writer.
I'll admit though, in some cases it is clearer than others whether it's true or not. If the poet writes "I floated in the sky with Chagall's fidller" then we know it's not literally true. And if it's clearly set several hundred years ago, then we know the "I" isn't the writer. Or if it's indicated in the title somehow. But if it's something that might possibly be true of the writer, it's more difficult. Novels have the benefit usually of being labelled "a novel" and then we know that the "I" is some other persona than the author's. I'm not sure how to get around this. I've taken to using "she" lately, rather than "I", for imaginary poems, but it does make it more detached.

Dana said...

1. This poem is great.

2. I love, love, love that your brother "brought home someone named God and got drunk with him on Popov vodka." That is the best phrase ever. Ever!

3. Your comment about the emotional authenticity of poetry is right on.

Crafty Green Poet said...

It's so necessary to be reminded that some people live like this. And no I never assume poetry is autobiographical - largely because a lot of my own poetry isn't. Emotional truth is the key.

gautami tripathy said...

Brutally honest!It hits home! But that is how it is. In India, a movie was made in the 70s on hippie culture and Hare Rama Hare Krishna was the tagline.

They looked out for God in the hashish they smoked.

I like it.

Paige said...

Hard core reality, seen from the outside.

Good work

Poet with a Day Job said...

One more thing 9 to 5 - not sure how close you are to having a full-length manuscript together, but I got word about Three Candles Press having an open reading period until March 31. Here's where I detailed the info (it's my "other" blog)

Poet with a Day Job said...

Darn, the link wasn't right - trying again:

Three Candles Press Thing

Jessica said...

Wow, thanks PWADJ. I do have a manuscript that I'm trying to place. I appreciate the help!

Sticking it in your eyes said...

Really interesting approach. I enjoyed the narrator's unique list. Lovely!

Jeannine said...

I can't get this line out of my head:

Spare some nickels for a girl
who can't go home?


The entire thing is very powerful.

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