Poverty & Riches

I’m joining Nance in declaring June to be poetry month, even though officially that was April or something. Who cares. We didn’t know about it then, we know about it now, and we like poetry.

There’s a song, Hands, by Jewel that I like a lot. For some reason, it is often the song that comes to mind for me when horrible, huge things happen. Not personal things, not like my mom dying, or Genevieve going blind. I mean the attacks on September 11th, or yet another mass shooting or bombing, perhaps a devastating earthquake. In the face of tragedies like these, I find some comfort in the words of her song, which opens with the line, “If I could tell the world just one thing it would be that we’re all OK, and not to worry ’cause worry is wasteful and useless in times like these.” You can go see the video here, if you’re so inclined.

There’s a line in the song that was inspired by Pablo Neruda’s poem, Poverty.


Ah you don’t want to,
you’re scared
of poverty,
you don’t want
to go to the market with worn-out shoes
and come back with the same old dress.

My love, we are not fond
as the rich would like us to be,
of misery. We
shall extract it like an evil tooth
that up to now has bitten the heart of man.

But I don’t want
you to fear it.
If through my fault it comes to your dwelling,
if poverty drives away
your golden shoes,
let it not drive away your laughter which is my life’s bread.
If you can’t pay the rent
go off to work with a proud step,
and remember, my love, that I am watching you
and together we are the greatest wealth
that was ever gathered upon the earth.

This is not a poem to guide a person through a shattering catastrophe, through the deaths of thousands or the crimes of madmen. Instead, it is a poem that might guide through something much more personal. Yes, it says, we may be poor. You go to the store in your old dress and shoes, you may not be able to pay the rent. But please, don’t let poverty steal from you that person that I know and love. Don’t let it change you and destroy you and make you cower in fear. Even though we will refuse to be the happy poor that the rich might imagine, wanting nothing more but each other, that doesn’t mean that we cannot be, still, happy. In love. We may very much want more, but we won’t let poverty destroy our spirits.