Combing the papers for summer jobs
nothing that seems absurd now, or
the obvious hustle, was beneath us;
our need was rampant as newsprint,
those endless columns of pulp dreams.
Not old enough for hire, I fantasized
my fortune in stuffing envelopes.
Seductive ads beckoned: Make $$$!
No experience needed! (Just gut-
wrenching desire for anything more…)
I’d make thousands, save the family,
buy my way out of loneliness,
invisibility. I sent off letters,
stamps tasting of promise,
expectation swelling in me like a secret.
I yearned for glimpses of freedom
like clearings stumbled upon,
meadows of unbroken green
edged by trees, yet seemingly endless.
Like that, but interior, as in the mind’s
infinite reaches, hinted at in dreams,
or the openness the heart allows each time
we choose love. Going into fields where
my grandmother eked out a sharecropper’s wage,
before I learned they weren’t hers,
they too seemed unbounded by horizon.
What I wanted I couldn’t name,
but the longing felt more real than
what I could touch, constant as labor.
Some nights I lay on the ground for hours,
drunk with that view of the heavens,
as if those thousand thousand stars each
held me by a thread, their imperceptible shuffle
spinning around me some cosmic cocoon.
So I endured the days, and months,
and years that kept me from adulthood,
the time of fulfillment. Or so I thought.
Growing up brought an end
only to a kind of indentured servitude,
taught me to distinguish loss from lack.
These days it’s TV commercials—the happy
clan hawking cars and breakfast cereals.
Anything is attainable in fantasy.
It takes so much to learn just this:
The things we need we don’t get in this world.
Some say we’re lucky to be alive, to have
our chance each day, to fight, get by. I say
what’s luck, or chance, or choice for that matter?
I take the offerings of this slim life,
hunger, like memory, some kind of assurance,
the body an open place unable to be filled.
Sharan Strange is widely anthologized and has appeared in Best American Poetry, In Search of Colors Everywhere, The Garden Thrives, and In the Tradition. She was also in a recent special issue of Callalloo. (updated 1997)