Well, don’t be shy. Let me check the tally here,
under this stack of poems that I spilled tea on the other night.
The stain spread across lines about a bird that notices
the loose string of a clip-on tie. It’s not even my poem. A girl
about your age wrote it. She said, “I am not the whole.”
I am not the whole either. I am parts, many parts, a cobweb
that someone tried to relocate from an oak to a porch.
The girl leapt metaphorically from herself
to a bird in a class I taught. There’s that triumph.
Pay for that work covered the water, sewer,
and trash bills this month.
But you asked how many poems I’ve sold.
A specific question.
A boy in the sixth grade classes I’m teaching now
scrunches up his forehead at me and asks,
“When you’re not here, what do you do?” I tell him
I wait outside all night until I hear the door unlock.
Not too much of a lie.
“No, what do you REALLY do?” Hungry for the precise
answer too, that kid.
Are you supposed to sell poems? After 30 or so years
of writing them, I’m pretty sure no one wants
to pay for my truths. They prefer the news,
or reality television, the steady thrum and throng
and ads that promise there’s a medication
for the way you’ve been staring out the window all this time,
instead of making money.
My truth is free.
So here it is.
I’ve sold no poems.
At least I don’t think so. Books of them, in a way,
but people always want to barter, or I end up
paying to ship them overseas. My poems
are better traveled than I am.
I’ve written as many as there were moths
on my bedroom ceiling at night when I was your age
and I couldn’t get to sleep in the black hole
that was the end of every single day.
I’m not sure what they are for in our world today.
Moths, or poems. They disappear.
A moth’s body —
have you seen it?
It is feathered dust.
If at all. You’re ruthless enough
to be the next one
to wait outside until you hear
the door unlock,
reverse your fame,
become the richest poor
in her own