Poetry is Good, Especially When You’re Fucking Poor: A Broke-Ass Thanksgiving Message

Because it is nearly Thanksgiving, Broke-Ass would like to take a wee break from full-court kvetching to tipping her hat the good things in life. One of these things is poetry. Not I-gave-my-love-a-cherry poetry–which makes Broke-Ass want to blind herself with colonial-era fireplace tools–but the really good stuff. If it makes her shut the fuck up and ruminate on something bigger, smaller, more infinite, or complex than her own narrow, often outraged, view of the world, it is good.

But sometimes her own narrow, often outraged, view of the world is somehow reflected in a good poem. This is not always welcome, since Broke-Ass looks to reading poetry as an escape hatch from her addled psyche. But when she received this poem over the mojo wire from a friend, it really was as though the night trains were crossing at the Sacred-Profane Junction:

Writing shit about new snow

for the rich

is not art.

— Kobayashi Issa

(translated by Robert Hass)

Kobayashi Issa, will you marry me? Sadly, no: The haiku master died in 1827. But what a fucking life that guy had. He had a horrendous stepmother; had to take shit jobs to afford poetry school; watched as all his four children died in infancy–and shortly after the last, his wife–was then given the shaft again by his stepmother over his father’s will; remarried, but his daughter was born shortly after he himself died.

Still, Issa completely reinvented and rejuvenated the haiku form, rescuing it from a rarefied, theoretical domain and offering it a home in workaday revelation. He worked really fucking hard; he wrote more than 20,000 poems. Whenever Broke-Ass begins to feel that her impoverished circumstances may make it impossible to advocate for and support the things she loves and wants for her children–the unfettered pleasures of thinking, studying, writing, making stuff, tinkering, friendship, eating–she reflects on the lives of people like Issa. What a fucking guy.

Plus, listen:

Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house
casually.

The snow is melting
and the village is flooded
with children.
All the time I pray to Buddha
I keep on
killing mosquitoes.
On a branch
floating downriver
a cricket, singing.

That last one is almost intolerably poignant. It speaks to the Human Condition and all that, to be sure, but it speaks with especial clarity to some of us (we know who we are, brothers and sisters). It makes her also think of her favorite W.S. Merwin poem:

Thanks
by W. S. Merwin
Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions 

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

Happy Thanksgiving, babydolls. Here we all are.

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About brokeassgrouch

I'm goddamned broke and grouchy. I live in the middle of the damned ghetto and raise chickens for eggs; grow all my own vegetables and fruit; bake the bread and make the cleaning products. Why? Because I fucking have to, that's why! That's what you do when you're fucking poor! You have to make the shit yourself, dumb-ass! Broke-Ass Grouch is sick of all you Bennington and RISD trustafarians yapping about your "urban farming co-ops" and your "carbon conscious lifestyle" and your "green choices" in the Times Styles section and every alternapress periodical that you can pick up for free in every eye-wateringly expensive, edgy bakery or green-market. Maybe when you have a trust fund, you can make "choices" or have a "lifestyle" or "decide" how to "spend" your "money." Excuse me, but Mama is just trying to feed her kids over here, you little shits. And stop spraying your art-school graffiti on the fence of the vacant lot across the street from my house. I know who you are, and I'm telling my friend Keith (who lives in the projects) that it was you who painted that cartoon of the African mask. So what can I tell you? I don't fucking know. I know a lot about being broke, sure as Bob's your fucking uncle. I know about how useless an Ivy League degree is when you're flat-ass broke. I know how to unclog a drain with baking soda and vinegar, and I know how to make my own CHEESE, for fuck's sake. You tell me.
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4 Responses to Poetry is Good, Especially When You’re Fucking Poor: A Broke-Ass Thanksgiving Message

  1. Sarah says:

    finally took a moment or five for that Merwin poem. Incredible. I hope I will be able to remember it Thanksgivings to come.

  2. glad to meet the grouchy says:

    great! again!
    Max wrote a poem:
    ” I am thankful…”
    It was good to read.
    Rumi is another one that helps out:-)

  3. joanna says:

    this is fucking beautiful.

  4. here today, gone tomorrow says:

    Thank you.

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