How Much Is
This Poem Going to
Cost Me?

It's not something I like to burden my readers with as a rule,
the process of spending money for paper and paper clips, pens,
ink cartridges for the printer --- never mind the computer itself,
which is a whole other story.

                               My favorite uncle
was watching Phil Donahue --- the topic was computers I guess ---
and a journalist on the panel said, "No writer today
can live without one." My uncle called before the show was over
and offered to buy me my first computer. I dyed my hair red
for the first time, just days before he died. Some readers might think
that might be developed as a separate poem of its own, but since were all
on tight budgets, I'll try to fit it in here:

                                       How I called all night
and he wouldn't answer his phone. How my sister found him
early the next morning. The tension over his will.
How my mother picked me up at the train station for the funeral,
crying into my shoulder --- her dead older brother
who brought her a hula skirt from the South Pacific after the war,
who gave her away at her wedding since their father
had already passed on --- before she suddenly got a grip on herself and said: "What the hell have you done to your hair?" My mother hates redheads
for some reason, always saying she would have drowned her kids
if any of them had been born strawberry blonde or auburn.
When I was little, my uncle used to live in the apartment downstairs.
That was before his wife died, very young,
so they never had a chance to have kids. He told me he felt helpless;
it was like watching a dying little bird....

                                          I pay for this poem in many ways.
Right now, as I write this, I could be at a job earning money
or, at the very least, looking at the help-wanted ads. I could be writing
a screenplay a novel that would maybe, just maybe, in the end pay for itself.
Sure "there are worse things I could do" as the slutty girl
sings in Grease, although it's not politically correct to call her that.
What do people say nowadays? Sexually daring?
I've always liked that character Rizzo --- the way she finds out
she's not pregnant after all at the end of the movie,
calling her good news down to her friends
from the highest car on the Ferris wheel.

                                       I wish amusement parks
didn't have such high admission prices. And, of course, I still like to eat.
Why just this morning I had a big bowl of cereal. The box says
you can get sixteen servings, but my husband and I never get more than ten, which makes each
serving about forty cents, not including the milk
or the banana or the glass of juice. But without that fuel,
who says I could have written this same poem? It may have been shorter
and even sadder, because I would have had a hunger headache
and not given it my best.

                          Then there's rent. I can't write this poem outside
as there are no plugs for my computer, and certainly no
surge protectors. I need to be comfortable --- a sweatshirt and sweatpants,
which used to be cheaper before everyone started getting into fitness.
I need my glasses more than ever as I get older.
Without insurance, I don't have to tell you how expensive they are.
I need a pair of warm socks and a place to sleep.
Dreams are very important to poets. I need recreation, escape, Hollywood movies.
You may remember I made reference to one earlier called Grease,
lines 32-38 of this very poem.

                                       It's not easy, now that movies in New York are eight seventy-five.
You get in the theater and smell the buttered popcorn,
though everyone knows it's not really butter they use.
It's more like yellow-colored lard. Any poet with heart trouble best skip it. But my husband and I smell it
and out come our wallets. The concession stand uses so much salt
every moviegoer also needs a drink, and everyone know
what those prices are like. We say good-bye to another thirty bucks,
but that's just the beginning --- there are envelopes, bottles of Wite-Out, stamps, and disks.

From --- Queen for a Day
Denise Duhamel
©2001 University of
Pittsburgh Press

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