Late Psalm

Betsy Sholl

I am hating myself for the last time.
     I’m rolling up angst like a slice of bread,
squishing it into a glob that will rot
     into blue medicine—another joke,
delivered by God, who when you finally
     elbow and nudge to the front of the line,
says, Oh, but the first shall be last . . .
     I’m considering the roadside grass,
all dressed up and headed straight for the fire.
     “Who isn’t?” say the flames,
though it’s easy to pretend not to hear
     in this mountain resort with its windows
all finely dressed for the busiest season,
     filled with glass fish, turquoise earrings,
infusers that turn weeds into tea.
     “Who isn’t poor already?” sing the stalks
of dried milkweed, though it’s hard to
     imagine these shoppers in bright ski jackets
coated with road grit, dust from the chunks
     of bituminous coal left outside mines
for the poor to glean. The poor—
     just driving by those bent figures,
filling their plastic bags, here in the 1990s,
     took my breath, made me stop nodding
yeah yeah to the music and pull off the road,
     stunned by the way the years press hard
to fossilize plants, and the poor too,
     who seem to age a month for every
middle-class day. How could they
     possibly hear a blade of grass sigh, “Poor?
There is no such thing.” Did I say
     I’m hating myself for the last time?
It’s not easy, but I’m loving instead—
     brown teeth, Kool-Aid mustaches, swollen
knuckles, nature’s answer to all questions—
     prodigality, those countless insects
and missionary weeds spending themselves
     freely and as far as I can tell, never
rescinding a thing. I’m loving a man
     with his pockets full of pen caps, receipts,
crumpled dollars to put in a beggar’s
     dented cup, briefcase bulging with papers,
leftover crusts for the ducks,
     and out of his eyes little fish of light,
glimmering minnows and fingerlings
     leaping between us, flashing
like the tiny carp we watched last night
     in the restaurant tank who vanished behind
weeds, miniature castles, a bubbly
     tube resuscitating their atmosphere.
Do they ever conceive of worlds outside
     the only world they’ve known? Because he is,
my man says they’re serene, swimming in
     a seamless rippling universe,
not quaking at the sight of monstrous eyes
     leering into the tank, not aching
with the lure of light, lethal burn of air,
     declaring their world a glass prison house.
Rich or poor—who decides? Who wrote
     the stories in which women cry out
all the more when folks tell them to hush,
     and beggars asking for money, get
wild rapture instead?

Back to top ↑

Sign up for Our Email Newsletter