V. Penelope Pelizzon

Winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award in 2001

Clever and Poor


She has always been clever and poor,
     especially here off the Yugoslav train

on a crowded platform of dust. Clever was
     Her breakfast of nutmeg ground in water

in place of rationed tea. Poor was the cracked
     cup, the missing bread. Clever are the six

handkerchiefs stitched to the size of a scarf
     and knotted at her throat. Poor is the thin coat

patched with cloth from the pockets
     she then sewed shut. Clever is the lipstick,

Petunia Pink, she rubbed with a rag on her nails.
     Poor nails, blue with the cold. Posed

in a cape to hide her waist, her photograph
     was clever. Poor then was what she called

the last bills twisted in her wallet. Letter
     after letter she was clever and more

clever, for months she wrote a newspaper man
     who liked her in the picture. The poor

saved spoons of sugar, she traded them
     for stamps. He wanted a clever wife. She was poor

so he sent a ticket: now she could come to her wedding
     by train. Poor, the baby left with the nuns.

Because she is clever, on the platform to meet him
     she thinks Be generous with your eyes. What is poor

is what she sees. Cracks stop the station clock,
     girls with candle grease to sell. Clever, poor,

clever and poor, her husband, more nervous
     than his picture, his shined shoes tied with twine.

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