I Knew I Wasn’t Poor

Adam Croot /​/​Flickr I Knew I Wasn’t Poor
Rate this item
(2 votes)

I knew I wasn’t poor,

because I had a choice:

buy tampons or birth control pills.

I shoplifted.

When I opened the oven door,

splitting the closet-​sized kitchen in half,

my only plan was heat.

The ice smooth on the inside of the windows,

the no money to pay the bill.

I knew I wasn’t poor,

because I could always eat

at the restaurant where I waitressed.

I never went hungry.

I waited for the rich customer,

bored with her herb chicken—

to toss it: No, I don’t want to take it

with me. We’re going to the theater.

I secreted that half-​plate of turned–

over food, and like a miser or explorer,

stashed it in my locker in the restaurant’s

dark hallway. I had no shame, I was finding

my solution: how to eat, how to live,

I felt accomplishment. No insurance for

my beater car, I threw parking tickets in

the backseat with a flurry. I grew rich in

my imaginings. The People’s Clinic when

I was too sick to last it out. I knew I wasn’t poor,

and when my clothes wore raggedy and

I got angry at what I couldn’t have, I walked

into the department store with an empty bag,

filling my heart, filling the holes

that were everywhere.


Pittsburgh Quarterly is now accepting submissions for its weekly online poetry feature. PQ Poem is seeking poetry from local, national and international poets that highlight a strong voice and good use of imagery, among other criteria. To have your work featured, send up to three previously unpublished poems in Word or PDF format as well as a brief bio to

Simultaneous submissions are accepted, but if work is accepted elsewhere, please alert us.


Jan Beatty

Jan Beatty’s new book, Jackknife: New and Selected Poems, will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in Spring, 2017. Books include The Switching/​Yard, Red Sugar, Boneshaker, and Mad River, winner of the 1994 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, all published by the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Explore Related Stories:

Welcome to Pittsburgh Quarterly
Keep up with the latest

Sign up for our enewsletter, Pittsburgh Quarterly This Week.

We’ll keep in touch, but only when we think there’s something worth sharing. To receive exclusive Pittsburgh Quarterly news and stories, please fill out the form below. Be sure to check your email for a link to confirm your subscription!

View past newsletters here.

Keep up with the latest from Pittsburgh Quarterly.

Enter your email address to receive exclusive Pittsburgh Quarterly news and updates via our enewsletter, Pittsburgh Quarterly This Week. We’ll keep in touch, but only when we think there’s something worth sharing — and worth your time. Thanks for joining us!

Already signed up? Please click the “Don’t Show This Again” button below

First Name(*)
Please let us know your name.
Last Name(*)
Invalid Input
Your Email(*)
Please let us know your email address.
Please check the box for security purposes.
Invalid Input
Don't have an account yet? Register Now!

Sign in to your account.