J. Learns the Difference Between Poverty and Having No Money

After Ernesto Trejo

And the morning’s marine layer cloud cover’s   just beginning to unhinge,
    to let the buttery light of another daybreak slip through
And weigh down the dead lawns and sagging rooftops
    of  this neighborhood, where Cold War era television antennas
Still cast shadows like B-52s heading offshore, where poverty, this early
    is the smell of  Malt-O-Meal and the dregs of  thin beer
Washed down the sink. Where the shift begins at 7AM,
    but consciousness has a way of coming round as slowly
As this old computer monitor flickers its dull sixteen colors into being.
    On it, the names and numbers of  laundromat and liquor store owners,
Fast food managers and lawn care companies; it’s my job
    to cold call them, read from a script on the benefits of membership
In the Executive Dining Club, not take No for an answer.
    I’m no good and both the boss and I know it, and he’s hovering
When the scraped-out voice of  the woman on my phone answers me with
    My husband’s been killed, and then, instead of  hanging up,
Throws the receiver down next to something — dishwasher or window AC,
    I don’t know — but something close, it sounds, to tearing itself  apart,
Something cycling through an awful, screeching noise.
    And it’s because I’ve paused that the boss flings a pencil
Into the wall in front of  me and edges closer, and because of  the fear
    of  unemployment forms or the sky opening up if  I were to walk out,
And because this sound — the un-oiled, flak-fouled crack of  it —
    has left me standing suddenly at the end of a runway, planes
Screaming low overhead and loaded for the beginning of  the end of the world,
    that I start back into the script, start back as if  I believe each word,
Even though, in the rattle and dust of  the jet-wash, no one hears a thing.