Friday Poem

Clever and Poor

She has always been clever and poor,
Especially here off the Yugoslav

Train on the platform of dust. Clever was
Her breakfast of nutmeg ground in water

In place of rationed tea. Poor was the cracked
Cup, the missing bread. Clever are the six

Handkerchiefs stitched to the size of a scarf
And knotted at her throat. Poor the thin

Coat, patched with cloth from the pockets
She then sewed shut. Clever is the lipstick,

Petunia pink, she rubbed with a rag on her nails.
Poor the nails, yellow with cold, Posed

In a cape to hide her waist, her photograph
Was clever. Poor then was what she called

The last bill twisted in her wallet. Letter
After letter she was clever and more

Clever, for months she wrote a newspaperman
Who liked her in the picture. The poor

Saved pounds of sugar, she traded them
For stamps. He wanted a clever wife. She was poor

So he sent a ticket—now she would come to her wedding
By train. Poor, the baby left with the nuns.

Because she is clever, on the platform to meet him
She thinks, Be generous with you eyes. What is poor

Is what she sees. Cracks stop the station clock,
Girls with candle grease to sell. Clever, poor,

Clever and poor, her husband, more nervous
Than his picture, his shined shoes tied with twine.

by Penelope Pelizzon
Ploughshares. Everyday Seductions
Spring, 1995