We came from scraps,
pulling slowly away from wrath
of spiderwebs and manure powder
and the reek of claret.
“Destitute” we brought with us,
in the remembered glossy wool fiber
of the hand-me-down sweater,
and old, brown coat of no warmth.
Someone had noted, “…five small
children left destitute.” This word
was new to us. Having nothing
now had a name. It erased images
of old geranium stems,
and an open can of extra milk,
well blackened with flies,
in the barn, by the stanchion.
It did not include the spread of pink
pepper berries, the tiny ring
found hanging on a weathered spear of
goat-yard fence, the darting barn swallow.
It declared a possession-lessness and
a mine without ore for milling
into middle class blend. It said there
was no money, or socks, or toys.
But in truth we brought much
with us, as we could not
shed the clothes we wore or the
fear, or the certainty of dire eyes.
We brought the scraps and spiderwebs
and the deep red ring of dried
wine at the bottom of a glass left
long by the radio, familiar, sour.
“Destitute,” as now we have blouses
hanging on metal hangers, and shoes
never approved of by our father?
“Destitute” in dry, warm houses?
Having nothing in our letter-day
provision, the use of money?
Is there not a partial wealth in hot,
running water, and a righteous sink?
We have our bodies’ warmth against
cold, and fear of administered pain,
and the wrack of fury in precision.
There is possession in free time.
Yes, there is destitution in our veins.
As much as we have quit the dark
and left El Cajon to desiccate in
the wind, it sticks like windblown burrs.
Phoebe Marrall, orphaned at the age of nine, was a survivor of The Depression and of a gruelling childhood. When she died in 2017 at the age of eighty-four, her daughters Jane Hendrickson and Camille Komine inherited hundreds of poems she had written. They remained unpublished during her lifetime, but it is the intention of her daughters that a collection be compiled for readers to appreciate. Relief, Have You a Name? is currently a work in progress, being edited by Gayle Jansen Beede.