The poor live in a sound of running static,
Barraged by elements, like TV noise,
That drown and yet sustain them, keep them poor,
Yet let them live their lives, both free and poor.
They’re far gone in the place where they grew up,
Some vale of soul-killing and trailer parks,
Nude for the next tornado, flashfire, mudslide,
Where no one’s hiring, no one will ever hire,
And jokes about inbreeding wear out fast,
Trampled like crab grass into rain-slick clay.
The American poor. That is who I mean.
They don’t see us except on TV shows
That are more distant from our actual lives
Than are the poor themselves, who sound like us
At our most cynical and desperate
And testimonially tearful and absurd.
Hear them on the air, raising their voices,
To scold their feeble children and complain
Feebly about the miles they drive to work.
The children whine that they want to get married,
Want to get out of school, want to get jobs.
And the poor, that is, the parents who are poor
And passing this condition to their children,
Bawl at them in condescending warning
To stay in school and wait. Meanwhile, the TV
Plays a commercial about college scholarships,
And the boy eating as he watches it,
Taps his knife and fork to the catchy tune,
Only to have his hoarse and harrowing mother
Eviscerate him verbally. Listen to her.
Ridiculous to hear them on the radio,
When they themselves are wedded to TV,
Hardly able to say, what anyone
Who is not poor can say who’s heard and seen them,
What it is like to be poor in this country.