“Ain’t My Penny No More” by Haley Jameson

Haley Jameson


In a small town
somewhere South
somewhere East
where there were more corn
and more green beans
than people,
I asked my brother
about his dreams.
He told me,
“You gotta get out soon,
start planning now
or you’ll be stuck here.”
“Like you?”
“Like me,” and he
plodded along with his back
hunched low
and his hoe cutting deep.
From a distance,
he looked no different
than a workhorse.
I started working odd jobs,
delivery here
grocery clerk there,
and I started putting
everything into my porcelain
But Daddy got sick,
so I gave Mama
half my savings.
So I gave Mama
all my savings.
I had to pick up the slack
help lift the burden
’cause Daddy couldn’t work
no more.
But I could.
Daddy had something
growing inside him
something bad
something big
and it was hungry,
just like we were.
And it ate Daddy,
took all the meat
off his bones
until he was just a skeleton
and then it ate his bones, too.
“That’s one less mouth to
feed,” Mama said
and I agreed.
So I started saving up again.
My brother’s hunched back
got permanent,
and he didn’t talk to me no
more about leaving.
He started showing me how
to farm
just like Daddy showed him.
But I knew if I picked up that
I ain’t gonna be getting out of
here no more.
I saved every penny I could
said I gotta keep saving
while the savings were mine.
But then Mama got sick.
So I gave my brother
half my savings.
So I gave him
all my savings.
I had to pick up the slack
carry the burden on both
shoulders now.
Mama had swallowed the
whole ocean
and it filled up her lungs
and no matter how much she
she just couldn’t get that
water back out.
It swallowed her,
“That’s one less mouth to
feed,” my brother said
and I agreed
and he handed me that hoe
and I took it.

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023


Haley Jameson: “I journal through poetry. I’ll write about a mundane event or follow a train of thought to the end. It’s healing to get it out of my head and see it written down in front of me, whether it makes sense or not.” (web)

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