Don't Cheapen Yourself

You look sleazy tonight
ma said.
Cheap, I said.
I’m doin cheap.
You got any idea
how much it costs
to do cheap these days?
To do gold City of Paris
three-inch platform sandals
and this I. Magnin snake dress?
I’m doin cheap.
You look like a bird, she said
a Halloween bird with red waxed lips.
     —In high school
you could either do cheap or Shakespeare,
college prep or a pointy bra,
ratting a bubble haircut
with a toilet brush.
I was not allowed to do high school cheap;
I did blazers and wool skirts
from the Junior League thrift shop.
In high school it was
don’t walk in the middle of
Richie, Leelee, and the baby,
you might come between them.
You look like a skag
wearin that black-eyed makeup,
people are gunna think you’re cheap.
While I poured red food dye
on my hair
to match my filly’s tail for the rodeo,
ma beat her head against the wall,
she said
tryin to make me nice.
I tried real hard,
but the loggers, the Navy guys,
they always hit on me.
Cause you’re an easy mark, ma said.
And I played guilty,
I played guilty every time.
But now, I said
now I’m doin cheap.

 "Don’t Cheapen Yourself" from Pin Money. Copyright © 1976 by Jungle Garden Press. Reprinted by permission of Jana Harris.
Source: Poem's from the Women's Movment (The Library of America, 2009)
More Poems by Jana Harris