The Anarchy of Poverty

LaTigra's grade school pageant.

LaTigra’s grade school pageant.

I recite, The Poor by William Carlos Williams.
I found this week’s poem while reading The Hidden Wound by Wendall Berry. Berry was particularly taken with the idea of, the custom of necessity, but I related to Williams’ admiration for the anarchy of poverty: an idea, since living on less than 5000$ a year, I have much pondered.
In regard to this poem, Berry states: [it is] as if suddenly, an uprising of the old truth that it can be profoundly liberating to be free of the claims of money.
Though life is in some ways easier with money, I often find that ‘old truth’ valid and valuable.


and it made them happy
to be alive, even as authentic poverty
transforms this world into a rose
no one can any longer recognize

James Tate

There’s a house on the curve into El Studiante I admire, a piecemeal jumble of rooms, at first glance wretched– and yet, there’s something commendable, something compelling about it. Its wattle and daub, rusting sheet metal hinged with miscellaneous wire, crafty use of feed bags and mattress skeletons, unlikely components of habitation plaited with string and skill. Chickens skitter in its confines, kittens tight walk barbwire festooned like prayer flags with dripping laundry, tiny children sit on the roadside (the front porch), fearless, surely to be squashed by an innocent motorist not familiar with their habitual peril, young and old move through portals difficult to define as doors attending chores, oblivious to my preoccupation with their vibrant homestead.

After reading Beyond Mountains There are Mountains, I fully comprehend the import of secure roofs and concrete floors. Our house is a concrete box. Still, I hold the organic beauty of hovels in high esteem.

When I consider the El Studiante home I’m reminded of an image Felipe has related to me many times; he’s a naked bulbous bellied child of four or five, filthy, covered in black beans having eaten with his hands, sticky, he clutches an icy glass bottle of coca cola– a rare treat, he evokes the thrill of it against his skin. Smiling and happy, his mother laughing at him, it’s a favorite memory.

If a photo of this event existed the viewer might think; how sad, a naked, filthy, possibly mal-nutritioned child drinking a coke. Perhaps they’d give money to clothe him, improve his diet. It’s unlikely they’d see a happy child with a treat.

Because we’re inclined to apply our own values to images the subject is vulnerable to misinterpretation. For this reason I’m careful not to present images unless I believe the subject understands how, and agrees with the way they’re represented. For this reason, there is no photo of the house in El Studiante.

I imagine people view scenes of squalor like this: it’s polluted, unlivable; the people who reside there are impoverished, miserable and… Helpless.

With concrete ideas of comfort and health standards we aren’t apt to appreciate the charm of scavenged goods fashioning a patio, or consider the possibility the occupants are capable, but see no reason to buy more refined building materials. It’s challenging to recognize independence within the ragged, and of course it’s not always there. But I’m familiar with many households that are cobbled by choice, not necessity, their occupants comfortable and satisfied.

I value squalor, quirky craftsmanship, structures built with care and ingenuity, and the life that seems to rise from them like steam breathes off hot black top washed with new rain.
It is my practice to acknowledge innovation before deprivation—to appreciate resourcefulness and avoid applying the panacea of pity, because in part– Dignity is in the eye of the beholder.

A wall of salvaged doors for shade, at my families home.

A wall of salvaged doors for shade, at my families home.

© 2013 Abby Smith, Writer

El Trabajador

I have seen a lot of outrageous things in Mexico, parents giving their toddlers drinks from their beers, for example. But the most shocking thing I have witnessed was a woman openly mocking the poor.

“Los Pobres”, she whined with a repulsive grimace on her face, mimicking a poor mother asking for help for her family. I don’t mean to pick on Mexico’s middle class, from whence this fresa came. Fresa is what country folk call city folk, like hot-house flower. I have judged the poor, though I have never had inclination to mock them. I think there are few of us that have not wondered things like, why are you buying Coca Cola with your food stamps?

Now that I have been poor— I think less the $5,000 a year qualifies— allow me to share something I have learned. When you are really poor and have a few dollars left over at the end of the week, you want to have fun! Period. I have tried to save the 20 pesos ($1.80) I sometimes have left after buying groceries, imagining in a few weeks I will have 200 pesos, enough for…? Nothing that will change your position I assure you. What is more, something that is no fun will present itself to eat your hard wrought 200 pesos, something that is important and you will be glad you have it, but in the back of your mind you will wish you’d spent it on your girlfriend last weekend, or  meat, or a movie, or beer.

This is a new cocktail recipe I created for Felipe. I made it with El Presidente Solera Brandy that my husband, who is making less than 20 dollars a day, doing dangerous (he has several wounds including a gash on his face) hard labor in the 90+ degree heat decided he wanted to spend half a day’s labor on. I made this cocktail for him and all the trabajadores y trabajadoras, may you have your indulgences and  may no one judge your solace.

El Trabajador

2 oz Solera brandy
2 oz tamarind concentrate (I make my own, which is already mixed with water if you are using a paste I would try 1 oz, mixed with a little water)
2 oz simple syrup
1 oz beer
crushed ice

Put all ingredients, except beer,  in a shaker and shake until your hands hurt from the cold and your shoulders from the effort, strain into a glass and float the beer on top. Salud!