Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: The Dangers Of Nonfiction

by lizard

This morning I pulled Sheryl Noethe’s book of poems, As Is, from my shelves. Noethe is Montana’s poet laureate, because she damn well deserves to be.

I kid you not, the poem I opened the book to begins with the line Working at the Homeless Shelter. Sometimes that’s just how it happens. Enjoy the poem.

*

THE DANGERS OF NONFICTION

Working at the Homeless Shelter
Reluctantly he relinquished the pills he’d been hoarding.
I’d stolen his suicide, forced him to live again,
For those feelings, he said, I hate you, mama bear.
I wanted to tell his story to the world;
how easily people lose everything, through tragedy,
through drink, geeking and gacking and tweaking.
Women whose violent husbands cost them their children.
Women with no teeth.

His story came out in the newspaper,
when someone found his son and his wife
were not dead, just a divorce.
To Robert this separation was death.
He believed his terrible story, and so did we.

The article appeared the next day revealing his fictions
He slipped away before dawn, his backpack and light coat,
his fever, and his missing teeth.
Gone, not a word, no phone calls, not a look behind.
He told me he could not make it on the streets again.
You don’t know how brutal it is, he said.
Now he’s out there, by himself, the seven dollars
I gave him folded into his jeans.

It’s turning winter, and he can’t make it on the streets.
Because he believed his fiction. Which of us don’t?
What if our fabrications were laid bare? Who would run?
The truth won’t keep you alive on the road.
He crossed Key West, dipping first into the Atlantic,
then just a few steps to the Pacific, and celebrated
with pitchers of tequila, cases of beer and strangers.

He was at the ocean. He did have a wife, work, a PhD.
I believe his little brother died of asthma on the school bus.
I wanted to shelter him like a brother, I wanted
to bring him into my world.
Daily I pound it into my heaad
he was not my own. All I have left is his story,
all I have left is what I thought I’d known.

—Sheryl Noethe


  1. Turner

    I live a comfortable lower-middle-class life. Real poverty may be all around me, but I see it only fleetingly. It presents itself to me in painful little skits involving real people.

    Yesterday I was picking up a prescription at the drug store. Next to me was a man (shabbily dressed, missing a lot of teeth) who was having a problem getting his prescription. He was told that he had no more refills. The woman behind the counter told him he’d either have to contact his doctor or come back later after she’d contacted his doctor.

    Trying to be helpful, she said maybe she could call him when the renewal order came in.

    He said he had no phone. And he didn’t know how to contact “his” doctor. He had no regular doctor, he said.

    “What should I do?” he asked the woman. She shrugged. She clearly didn’t know. And there were several other customers to deal with.

    I didn’t stick around to see how this little drama would resolve itself. But I thought about it for quite a while afterwards. Was this the “learned helplessness” I’m always hearing about? Or was the man’s helplessness a result of an accumulation of incidents that had gradually chipped away at his abilities to cope? Would I, if I’d endured the same or similar incidents, be as helpless as he was?

    As I was leaving, Inoticed contempt in the faces of several other people standing near the shabby man and me. I avoided meeting their eyes with mine. I was afraid they’d think I shared their contempt. Maybe I did, just a little.

    After all, for people like me, poverty is pretty abstract. It’s annoying to have it suddenly, with no warning, demanding my attention.

    • JC

      “After all, for people like me, poverty is pretty abstract. It’s annoying to have it suddenly, with no warning, demanding my attention.”

      It’s even more than annoying when one medical crisis does more than demand our attention. That “shabbily dressed” gentleman could be any one of us.

      “There, but for the grace of god, go i…”

      What you saw in those people’s faces, and maybe in your own conscience, is nothing more than fear — masquerading as contempt.

  2. Liz–You have honored me and made my day.
    Thank you so much. Once and a while joy comes winging
    onto a dreary afternoon, and today it came from you.

    • lizard19

      my pleasure!

  3. Big Johansson

    To the tune of “Let it Snow”

    Oh the election results were frightful
    But the fire will be delightful
    And since we’ve no place else to turn
    Let It Burn! Let It Burn! Let It Burn!

    There’s no sign of destruction stopping
    So I’ve bought some corn for popping
    There’s just one way progressives learn
    Let It Burn! Let It Burn! Let It Burn!

    Now the country is slowly dying
    Voters spoke, there’s no denying
    Let the country get what it earned
    Let It Burn! Let It Burn! Let It Burn!*

    *author unknown, not noted from where I stole if from.

    • Steve W

      BJ, are you threatening to commit arson or attempting to encourage others to commit arson because of your anger at losing an election? That’s interesting. On a lot of levels.

      If you want my advice, I’d stop trying to intimidate people through threats of violence, if I were you.

      It’s not just not nice, It may be detrimental, in a legal as well as PR sense, to your social viability. Threats of violence against a targeted group to attain political advantage aren’t protected speech, BJ. It’s often called terrorism. Threats need not be specific to be considered terrorism. If it’s widely perceived as a threat of violence to influence political outcome, that’s often enough.

      I’d be careful of what you ask for, is my advice. Some people might not go ha ha. For instance, I wouldn’t share your post with the people at the screening gates before you get on a flight, if I were you. Just saying.

      • Big Johansson

        “Let it Burn” in a figurative sense.

        http://minx.cc/?post=334735

  1. 1 Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Anticipating April | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] The Dangers Of Nonfiction […]

  2. 2 152 Poetry Posts to Celebrate April, National Poetry Month | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] The Dangers Of Nonfiction […]




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