Last Saturday night I had the great pleasure of performing one of my spoken word pieces for Minnesota Without Poverty”s (www.mnwithoutpovery.org) statewide gathering. There were two musicians and two other poets who performed, and it was an honor to be in such a talented group of people. Much love to Julia Dinsmore for all her encouragement and for contending to get me on the program for this event. It was a great night, and there were many requests for a copies of the poem and possibly other opportunities to perform.
I am delighted to report that I sent copies of the poem out to The Saint Paul Area Council of Churches (www.spacc.org), The Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless (www.mnhomelesscoalition.org), Jobs Now Coalition (www.jobsnowcoalition.org), and Senator John Marty. So I thought I’d post the text of the poem for my internet friends too. You’re welcome to use it too if you like, just please credit me and let me know where it’s being used. Here it is!
The math works
$6.15 an hour for eight hours a day
$49.20 a day for five days a week
Since I can’t get overtime
$246 a week
Which shakes out to $870 a month
$600 for my apartment
$80 a month for bus fare
Which leaves about $50 a week for groceries
For me and my kid.
The math works.
Except my kid goes to school
$4.25 for pencils
$5.60 for a notebook
$10.75 for a calculator
$29.83 for new used clothes
$23.65 for a backpack
And it’s $75 before we’re done
But I can do this
So I walk to work in the month of September
It’s four miles, it takes over an hour
But it’s okay, because the math works.
Except that my kid gets the flu
I should have gotten her that shot
But I didn’t get home from work until late
And I was so tired
$95 for the doctor visit
So they could tell me it’s a virus
And there’s nothing they can do
I can’t miss work
So I pay my neighbor $10 a day
To check in on my kid once or twice
That’s our whole grocery budget
So I buy ten cans of chicken noodle soup
On sale for a dollar a piece
To last a week
Chicken soup is good for a sick girl anyway, right?
And that’s good, because I need the math to work.
Except that they cut my hours
Down to 35 hours a week
That’s $30 a week off my check
I swallow my panic
If I’m very careful
I cut the grocery budget by $20
And only take the bus home from work
But it’s getting colder
My coat is torn
My shoes are wearing out
There’s no way to replace them
But the math doesn’t care about that
It just works.
In December there’s Christmas
I walk the aisles of shiny toys my kid would love
I check one price tag
$34.95 for a toy?
An employee sees me touching it
“Can I help you, ma’am?”
Just looking, I say, just looking
I can’t buy anything
Because I can only work the math so hard.
In January they raise my rent
$650 a month now
I carry the notice to the office
It rattles in my shaking hand
Because I haven’t eaten enough
Because I’m exhausted
I’ve worked seven hours
And walked eight miles
And it’s 10 degrees outside
And I’m chilled down to my marrow
I try to be polite
I tell that lady with the nice hairdo and the brand new clothes
That I can’t pay an extra $50 a month
I can’t pay any extra a month
She gives me look
A look that sees my torn coat, my worn-out shoes
My shaking hands
there’s nothing she can do
Everything’s expensive these days.
Now I am not a crazy person
And I’m not taking any drugs
But I scream and yell at that woman
I know, I know things are expensive
But I don’t get paid any more because things are expensive
And do you understand that I can’t live if the math doesn’t work?
Math is cruel
It comes up short without any apology
I will spend my life working it
But I want better for my kid
For her, I need people to work
People to push my employer to pay me a fair wage
A living wage
People to pitch in for school supplies
People to lobby for cheaper doctor visits
People to invest in my kid, while I’m at work
So she can spend her life making the world work
Instead of just the math.