I’ve had a poem in my head around this subject for a good week-ish now. It all happened after I stopped into Local First Grocer, a local food co-op that only sources local food. I asked if they take EBT, which I have been on up until the end of this month. They said, “not yet.” I knew the cashier and I mentioned something about going off of food stamps soon, and that it was kind of embarrassing.
“No, it isn’t.”
You see I’ve bought into the American philosophy, namely this: If I am on food stamps, I am abusing the system, I should have done better, and I should work harder to get myself out of the mess I put myself in.
Nevermind that I am a poor college student who just graduated with $40,000 in student loans. Nope. Nevermind that.
I was still just a broke ass trying to usurp our precious tax dollars. But my friend’s statement brought me up short.
Why in God’s name is this an embarrassment?
So here’s my poem war cry about the whole shitty thing.
I’m scraping the bottom of the penny jar
to find cash for a quick meal
swiping what they seem to think is a
at the grocery store so I can get lunch at work.
I feel guilty as I walk into Whole Foods.
I buy a bottle of sparkling water
because damn it, I don’t drink alcohol
and I need something to tickle my tongue.
But this is a “luxury”
and someone with this card
should never buy “that bottle.”
Yet instead I’m relegated into a group of drunks
with a far more dangerous and expensive bottle
just by virtue of the fact
that my wallet carries this card that
in Colorado, is labeled differently
to hide the fact we are poor.
Let’s not display it now.
Let’s not publicly tout the fact that
I can barely afford my monthly utilities
and this card is the only way I can buy groceries.
Nope. Let’s pretend
that this poverty doesn’t exist
that hard work is an eraser
if I just had more “initiative”
well then, I can stop being accused
of stealing your tax dollars
even though you don’t even know my face.
the one that stared at death stark in front of me
looks cold sadness in the face every day
willing myself to survive
to burst forth in imaginative color
against the black stage backdrop of my
surprising little life.
So many other faces
just like mine
stared at death just like mine
have “sadness” and “despair”
as angels and devils on each shoulder
portways to enlightenment
dark hallways to oblivion.
How do you not think of this
the white-hot pain of uncovering death
staring at faces hanging in nooses
trying to cope when your own children are starving.
And yet they say
it’s your fault that
the system is against you.
What happens when the system buckles
under the backbreaking
muscle tearing load?
“Buck up,” they say.
“chin up,” they say
despite the broken necks
they keep standing on
to claw their way to the top.
I’ve got to stop buying in
to this mentality that food stamps
are an embarrassment
I am an embarrassment
I should be invisible.
I refuse. This load is too much.
I will not be relegated to your ashamed oblivion.
Look at me, America.
See your masses.
See your suffering.
And dare to lift another finger
in the face of our certain death.