The Bulgarian woman who cleans, and
washes dishes – gets yelled at far over
the usual – she steals… we have a good
relationship, she actually likes me –
which Kenneth thinks sick – ‘she don’t like no one’
but there’s steel there – and is my lesson learned,
because I trust everyone, she had seen
how I placed black money in my backpack –
I just figured nobody will take things
in this society fruit-sellers fruit
the streets – booksellers let their wares hang out –
everyone is trusted – there is no theft –
and after my money was gone, I thought –
well, at least I’ll become better to hide
that sanguine message of what money is
She presented me with two worn lighters –
a gift, I was surprised, couldn’t figure
out, Why? – Then I realized this was how
she repaid me for my loss, her meek theft –
my strange suddenly holding on to all.
I am poor – she gets that, and has begun
slipping bills into my worn winter coat –
bit at a time – a mouse eschewing cheese.
Enemy of my spirit is spirit –
revenge a heartless deed – I need to eat.
Review by Pam O’Shaughnessy
This poem is a narrative which delves into the relationship between two poor workers, people on the edge of survival, one of whom steals from the other, in an almost Chekhovian set-up. The thief does not return the money, though her theft is discovered, but develops sympathy for her victim and even starts “slipping bills into my worn winter coat”. The victim decides not to be a victim. He won’t reveal her theft, deciding to accept the act without vengeful feelings, and to also accept the sympathy. This Bulgarian woman mimics the world, in its alternation of taking and giving. The speaker’s reaction is to not impede this natural flow. Revenge would be like taking revenge on himself. We are all like mice, the poem says, clutching our cheese, then “eschewing” it. I’m left with the rich feeling of having read a much longer narrative.