Cost and Use

Velvet slippers, one on the sidewalk, the other, debris
in a yard. A vanished woman, split in two by mesh fence.
At midnight, she walked barefoot. At midday, a man
faces the Latin Chef window. He reads the menu, his eyes

eat each item. His hands spread the wallet, his eyes
count each dollar. In one history, this is the end.
In another, a beginning. Along the block, people tend
their yards. Beatrice can see who remembers the country, crammed

into buckets of dirt, cantilevered on old boards, farmed
with okra, basil, tomatoes, aloe, cilantro, blue corn,
bitter melon. Twine takes bean vines up into a crown,
a shawl of shade. How frightened she was when she moved

into the four rooms, no yard, no way to grow her food.
To eat she always has to sell something. Her deft hands,
like women who paint roses by the hour, fancy designs
flowering on the edges of plates they can't afford to buy.

Or words that she strings together, ideas of things, dry
fertile seeds made by the sunflowers now turning their heads
in an arc of light in the yard beside her:

                                                             Between thought and deed,
she is rife with words, enough and not worth a penny a pound.

But they answer a need sharp as hunger and thirst. They feed the doubt
that gnaws on habit and the past. They pay for the act that breaks free.

:: Minnie Bruce Pratt, Walking Back Up Depot Street (1999)