[Raymond Pettibon, Untitled, 1989]
A day before the Federal Reserves cut interest rates yet again, astute and straight-talking social commentator, Mike Whitney, wrote: "The stakes couldn't be higher for Ben Bernanke. If the Fed chief decides to lower rates at the end of April, he could be condemning millions of people to a death by starvation [...] Bernanke, with one swipe of the pen, now has an opportunity to send more people to their eternal reward than Bush." When Bernanke first came on, the Seattle Post Intelligencer commented that "he will have to get into the habit of parsing his words extremely carefully as he moves into a job where the wrong head tilt or inflection can make or lose millions." What kind of a job is it where a tilted head or an inflection can cause fortunes to evaporate? Where one swipe of the pen will kill millions? The New York Times' Richard W. Stevenson wrote about Alan Greenspan, Bernanke's predecessor: "his every phrase will be transmitted instantaneously to stock and bond traders worldwide and [...] his merest inflection can send markets stampeding." As poets, we spend our lives massaging inflections and tilting heads in front of empty chairs, but no one shudders, no money appears and no family goes hungry.

People are going hungry because the world is awashed with our rapidly depreciating dollars. On April 22, 2008, Oscar Spengler wrote in Asia Times: "The global food crisis is a monetary phenomenon, an unintended consequence of America's attempt to inflate its way out of a market failure. There are long-term reasons for food prices to rise, but the unprecedented spike in grain prices during the past year stems from the weakness of the American dollar. Washington's economic misery now threatens to become a geopolitical catastrophe."
One can make a dollar even more ethereal by printing poetry on it. After a reading I gave at Evergreen State College earlier this year, two individuals, one male, one female, white, youngish and unarmed, not visibly drunk, stoned or tripping, gave me these mysterious bills no store would accept [click on each image to enlarge]:

Jules Boykoff

no name

Harryette Mullen
Aram Saroyan

Lydia Davis

Robert Fitterman
Riva Roller

Zachary Schomburg

Before I leave to go earn my dollars for the day, I type out this 19th century African-American folk rhyme:

He Paid Me Seven
"Our father, Which are in Heaven!"--
White man owe me eleven, and pay me seven.
"D'y Kingdom come! D'y Will be done!"--
An' if I hadn't took that, I wouldn't get none.

Originally Published: April 30th, 2008

Linh Dinh was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1963, came to the U.S. in 1975, and has also lived in Italy and England. He is the author of two collections of stories, Fake House (Seven Stories Press 2000) and Blood and Soap (Seven Stories Press 2004), and the novel Love...

  1. April 30, 2008
     Don Share

    Nice spin on Wallace Stevens's “Money is a kind of poetry.”

  2. April 30, 2008
     Linh Dinh

    Hi Don,
    I wouldn't mind having a few more poems in my pocket!

  3. April 30, 2008
     Don Share

    Ah, but you just missed Poem in Your Pocket Day!!

  4. May 1, 2008
     Joseph Hutchison

    Thanks to Lihn Dinh for bringing irruptions of reality to Harriet. The original spin (in the initial graphic) is from Henry James and his sly portrayal of the seductions of wealth in The Golden Bowl. And isn't Stevens in many ways a natural heir to James? Observing himself fastidiously observing a rather narrow slice of the world while the larger world crumbles around him.... Money may be a kind of poetry, but it can also be a kind of murder: a means of murdering real value.
    And as for the mysterious students at Evergreen State College–why do I suddenly feel like the Tristero are alive and well?

  5. May 1, 2008
     Linh Dinh

    Hi Joseph,
    Walking home yesterday, I felt a little whorish for introducing humor into a post about mass murder, and I mean real murders, not just murder of values.