Riches

I remember with the vividness
of this lime and mango gelato
how content I used to be
some thirty years ago
living one block from the library,
taking the grimy bus
one and a half hours to my abject job
returning each dusk to my abject apartment
in a strange city: no phone, no TV,
one unreliable friend.

I used to buy those huge cans of V-8
when I could: 3 inches of juice per day.
Lettuce, lentils and bread.

In a bad patch, I lived nine days
on Lipton Pea Soup packets
the office stocked for free
along with the tea bags.
One a day so they wouldn’t notice.
I was too embarrassed
to tell anyone, or ask for a loan.

I read a lot, and walked around.
I couldn’t help anyone, but I would have.
I would have!
I was absurdly happy.

Even now there is really very little
I couldn’t do without.
Of course I still want to help someone,
especially now that I have a good job
and a well-fed family,
and loyal friends, and a house.

Then how do I explain
the charities whose letters I’ve tossed
after reaching my “quota”
and the 800 numbers
I didn’t write down
because I didn’t know “for sure”
where the money would wind up?

Mother Teresa said
all she would ever need
was two saris and a bucket.

I’ve nodded and smiled
at a woman who lives a few streets away.
She must be having trouble:
single mother, wary expression,
crappy car, lawn unmowed.
Her children stop their play
on pink plastic structures
and stare at me as I drive by.
Do they stare at everyone?
I’m too embarrassed
to ask her if I can help.
Which of us am I embarrassed for?
Can my hesitation really be
a complicated form of empathy?

No. I am just embarrassed.

J. Allyn Rosser

J. Allyn Rosser

J. Allyn Rosser’s fourth collection of poems, Mimi’s Trapeze, appeared in 2014 from the University of Pittsburgh Press. Her work has been awarded the Morse Prize, the New Criterion Poetry Prize, and Poetry magazine’s Bock and Wood prizes. She has been the recipient of fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Ohio Arts Council. Her work has appeared in five editions of the Best American Poetry series, and in such journals as Poetry, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, and The Georgia Review. She teaches at Ohio University.
J. Allyn Rosser

Latest posts by J. Allyn Rosser (see all)

Author: J. Allyn Rosser

J. Allyn Rosser’s fourth collection of poems, Mimi’s Trapeze, appeared in 2014 from the University of Pittsburgh Press. Her work has been awarded the Morse Prize, the New Criterion Poetry Prize, and Poetry magazine’s Bock and Wood prizes. She has been the recipient of fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Ohio Arts Council. Her work has appeared in five editions of the Best American Poetry series, and in such journals as Poetry, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, and The Georgia Review. She teaches at Ohio University.