Leveler Poetry Journal
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Don’t you think it would be smart if you got something to eat?

Is what I hear

in what I imagine to be the surgeon general’s voice

if Sister Ruth-Ann, who publicly scolded me

for not memorizing my multiplication tables

were the surgeon general

making a public service announcement

in my brain. In a dark, low-ceilinged bar

a pretty young woman’s skin is white as the parsnip

I chopped up for gumbo this morning. On her man’s

freckles, if you look as intently

as she is, you’ll find the lyrics from all the songs

on the best juke box in town. Neither of their eyes

are seasoned enough to pierce through the beauty

of life, to see its return-on-investment side,

which you can find at a table like mine

where for the price of a pint of beer

I’ll tell you that each of us is a business, that our bodies

are fences around industrial parks

and inside we’re manufacturing fans

that work fine for 38, or 39, or 42 years,

or forever, hard to tell from fan to fan, one

or two catch fire each year, and we conduct

studies, move goods, make decisions based on formulas

that factor in advertising expenses

and the cost of damage control, calculating

down to the cent the value of a human life,

the cost of a three-walled cubicle with no window view.

Those who purchase our goods are worth X

to be reached. The ones who will die from our faulty wiring

are worth Y in compensation. The last line of the story

problem of our life to date says that the value

of Y must always be less than X. We will sit here

drinking, it’s clear by now, till we’re drunk,

watching upstart lovers like we’ve caged them,

like they’re our parakeets, trying to convince ourselves

that the cage, like the box we never think inside of,

is outmoded thinking, that what we have here

are entrepreneurs who’ve stumbled onto something big;

this is our chance to be envied for buying stock

at the very beginning, and holding on.

Matt Mauch