I Knew I Wasn’t Poor

Adam Croot /​/​Flickr I Knew I Wasn’t Poor
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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 To have your work featured, send up to three previously unpublished poems in Word or PDF format as well as a brief bio to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.

Other stories in this category: « Jack Gilbert (19252012) 26 + 6 = 1 »
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